VITAS Expands in the Florida Panhandle

VITAS Healthcare, a subsidiary of Chemed Corp. (NYSE: CHE), has expanded its footprint in the Florida panhandle with a de novo location in Panama City. The agency will serve patients in six Florida counties.

As a part of the expansion, VITAS is hiring 42 new full-time employment positions across several disciplines. The location will also be making grants to community organizations that provide food, housing and medical assistance, caregiver education and support and scholarships.

“The entire VITAS team is proud to expand our signature services to residents of the Panhandle so we can best address the growing need for high-quality hospice care,” said General Manager Kenn Wallace. “We look forward to increasing access and overall awareness around end-of-life care services amongst patients, families and health care partners, all while creating employment options for the local community.”

Hospice utilization runs high in Florida. In 2017, the state had the third highest rate in the country with 57.9% of Medicare decedents electing hospice, according to the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization. Only Utah (59.4%) and Arizona (59.2%) saw higher utilization. 

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As of 2018, hospice utilization nationwide reached slightly higher than 50%, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“As the number of seniors in Florida continues to grow, VITAS is prepared to enter new markets, like Panama City, to provide access to communities in need of high-quality hospice services,” Terry Holecek, vice president of operations for VITAS Healthcare, told Hospice News. “We already provide hospice care in communities surrounding Panama City, including Pensacola to the west and Gainesville and Jacksonville to the east, and we are committed to help the Panama City region rebuild from the devastating impact of Hurricane Michael in 2018.” 

The company has taken steps to protect staff and patients from possible infection as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. Florida has been hit particularly hard by the virus. The state has seen nearly 419,000 cases to date, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 73,000 of those cases were confirmed within the past seven days.

“As soon as COVID-19 began spreading in the United States in February, VITAS updated its staff training, safety, and infection-control training and protocols across all programs. Job screening and interviews shifted to virtual platforms to recruit new employees, and all in-office procedures include daily temperature checks for employees, social distancing measures, wearing face masks, handwashing, and other safety precautions to keep employees safe,” Holecek said. “Our grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Panama City office was held virtually as well. Staff members who visit patients in nursing homes and assisted living communities follow local and state regulatory guidelines to be tested every two weeks.”

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