Joshua Proffitt, president of hospice and home health provider LHC Group (NASDAQ: LHCG), indicated that hospice growth was a “top strategic focus” for the company. LHC Group has completed a number of hospice acquisitions so far in 2020 with additional transactions in their pipeline.
“We’re so well-positioned that top priority of hospice expansion and growth is front and center,” said Proffitt during the first episode of Hospice News’ Elevate podcast. “We will definitely not be placing less of a focus on hospice. In no circumstance will that be the case. When I tell you it is a top strategic priority for us, it is that.”
The company has remained bullish on expansion into the hospice space largely through joint venture partnerships, entering into recent ventures with Orlando Health throughout Central Florida, with University Health System in both Georgia and South Carolina, and then with Northeast Georgia Health System in Gainesville.
“We’ve had a real emphasis on continuing to grow our hospice segment,” Proffitt told Hospice News. “Just from an operational metric standpoint, I feel like we’ve really matured that segment to a place where we’ve got the foundation to really grow off of and we’ve got a strategy to co-locate, or tri-locate, in the markets we’re blessed to serve in our home health, hospice and home- or community-based services. [We] really look forward to aggressively growing hospice in the years in front of us.”
LHC Group’s recent acquisition of Texas-based CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospice was part of its co-locating strategy, according to Proffitt. Acquired through a joint venture with CHRISTUS Health for an undisclosed sum, LHC will gain 22 home health, hospice, palliative care, community-based and long-term acute care locations across three states with the transaction’s expected close Nov. 1.
As with the rest of health care community, LHC Group has felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. LHC Group’s hospice sector saw slowed growth early in 2020, but rebounded from COVID-19 pitfalls during May of the second quarter.
“You can’t pressure-test an organization, especially a health care organization, any more so than in the face of a historic pandemic,” Proffitt stated. “From a hospice standpoint, we saw a slight downtick early on around the April to May timeframe, but we are now back 5% or greater above pre-COVID levels from an average daily census across our entire hospice footprint and we’re extremely excited about that.”
Despite facing COVID-19 headwinds early in Q1, hospice has been among the markets weathering the pandemic’s financial storms. Industry expansion is expected to continue with full steam ahead as investment deepens into hospice waters.
LHC Group is among the hospice providers strategizing for the unknown without a clear picture of the pandemic’s end on the horizon. According to Proffitt, focusing on infectious disease control and prevention, along with providing strong workforce support, will be strategies to navigate any choppy pandemic waves ahead.
“If there were an uptick or a worsening, then I feel like we are prepared and have all the operational and safety measures in place to handle it,” Proffitt. “If the pandemic worsens or extends longer, if there were an outbreak or an uptick in a particular geography or market — even as certain areas of the country are improving — then we stand ready. Since March, we’ve learned so much and our team is so resilient. Our number one focus has been on them because if we can take care of them and if we can keep them safe and healthy, then that turns into them going out and taking care of our patients and keeping them safe and healthy. Many of us are hoping that COVID will dissipate in the new year, but it’s actual trajectory remains uncertain.”
As Proffitt shared with Hospice News, LHC Group has ramped up efforts to support frontline staff by developing a non-profit financial hardship fund for employees taking hits during the pandemic. The company has also extended employee health benefits to further support staff in 2021 under uncertainty around the availability of a vaccination or treatment for COVID-19.
The company performed an analysis comparing employee wages before and then during the pandemic and did a wage supplement to ensure they did not experience a drop in income. Also, employee costs for health care benefits will not increase for 2021.
“There’s some real tangible things we’ve done for our employees, in addition to the safety and infectious disease protocols,” said Proffitt. “Our Purpose Fund is a financial hardship fund for our employees, whether it’s a death in the family, natural disaster, house fire or those sorts of things. We created a COVID-19 specific criteria from our Purpose Fund, and we’ve been able to provide some financial assistance to a lot of our employees through that effort. We’ve done a wage supplement for frontline, direct-caregiving employees in the early days of the pandemic when their wages were directly impacted. We’re trying to really do a lot to take care of them.”