Illinois-based Joliet Area Community Hospice has rebranded as Lightways Hospice and Serious Illness Care. The new brand is intended to reflect the organization’s continued growth trajectory and expanded patient reach and range of services, including serious illness care, pediatric care and grief support as well as hospice.
The rebranding reflects a growing trend in hospice care that sees providers diversifying their services to improve access and engagement among patients and their families. Hospices nationwide have developed a plethora of new services to reach patients further upstream, with a growing number changing their brands to mirror their expanded scope.
Established nearly 40 years ago as Joliet Area Community Hospice, the organization’s rebranding as Lightways was largely driven by its expanded service offerings, a growing regional footprint across Illinois and evolving payment models, according to CEO Mary Kay Sheehan. As Sheehan told Hospice News, Lightways has expanded its serious illness program and experienced rapid growth in the last five years.
“The name ‘Lightways Hospice and Serious Illness’ will allow us to provide our quality care to more people. To do that, we are developing relationships and partnerships with physicians, facilities and payers throughout the 11 counties in northeastern Illinois where we are licensed,” Sheehan said. “First, our new counties made us aware that the word ‘Joliet’ in our name was impeding referrals. Patients and families want a hospice that is part of their community. Secondly, because of the expansion in our serious illness program, we felt that the word ‘hospice’ did not adequately describe the breadth of our care.”
Lightways currently provides end-of-life and serious illness care to patients and families in eight Illinois counties. The community-based nonprofit will expand its service region to 11 counties this year.
This continues several years of steady expansion. During the past five years, the hospice has added five counties to its footprint. Also within that time frame, the organization’s patient census has jumped 220%, according to Sheehan.
Illinois has a swelling need for aging and end-of-life care services. Seniors 65 and older comprise more than 16% of the Prairie State’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hospice utilization among Medicare decedents in Illinois is in lockstep with the 2018 national average of 50.3%, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO).
Along with an expanded patient reach, rebranding as Lightways was necessary to attract interest of direct contracting entities (DCEs) and payers in a crowded hospice market, Sheehan told Hospice News.
“A rebrand was necessary for the practical matter of obtaining insurance and DCE contracts,” said Sheehan, “Payers want providers that can care for patients in a larger service area.”
Hospice and palliative care providers have increasingly formed partnerships through direct contracting to improve quality of care and reduce costs. Direct contracting was unveiled as a component of the Primary Care First initiative. The program includes three payment model options designed to help the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and health care providers reduce the cost of care and improve quality. These models incorporate aspects from other programs such as Accountable Care Organizations and Medicare Advantage.
CMS has currently halted accepting applications for the demonstration’s second year, recently announcing that the direct contracting program is under review. Essentially a primary care program, this means hospice and palliative care providers reap the most benefits of these payment models by partnering with an existing DCE. A rising number have launched new business lines designed to manage patient care further upstream than the end of life, including through community- and home-based serious illness care.
Lightways expanded in February with a new resource center adjacent to its Joliet, Ill., headquarters that will provide grief support, training and education to the community. Additionally, construction of a new inpatient unit is anticipated to wrap up this summer. The facility features 20 patient suites, a multi-family living room and dining room and a business center for families’ use.
“It is very important to us that the community understand that we are still independent and nonprofit,” said Sheehan. “Our Joliet roots are tremendously important to the organization — they are the foundation supporting our growth and expansion.”