Empath Health’s Lynne Craver: Benefits of Hospice Tech Limited Only by Imagination

The technical landscape of hospice could be a key factor to delivering effective and quality clinical care, according to Lynne Craver, Empath Health’s recently appointed chief mission implementation officer. Craver is among the new echelon of Empath Health’s executive leadership following last year’s merger with Stratum Health.

The two Florida-based companies joined forces last February, with the combined organization retaining the Empath Health brand. The enterprise is the parent company of Suncoast Hospice and Tidewell Hospice. Stratum and Empath merged with the intention to offer a full continuum of home- and community-based care.

Craver leads the nonprofit provider’s partnerships with hospice and other health care organizations to provide technology, financial and other services. Joining Empath in 2013, she previously served in patient admission, electronic medical record and technology roles before stepping into the c-suite.


The impact of technological advancements and innovation will reverberate through the delivery of clinical care, according to Craver, who recently sat down with Hospice News to discuss the future of hospice in an increasingly virtual and digital age.

How does your previous patient admission and technology roles at Empath inform your approach to your new executive position?

I began at Suncoast as vice president of IT operations before it became Empath. At the time, I was responsible for IT operations across all of the legacy Empath organizations. Prior to this, I’ve largely come from Fortune 100 companies for pretty much all of my career, spending much of it in IT- and technology-related roles. I’ve worked for Illinois Bell Telephone Company, AT&T Teleholdings, Inc., formerly known as Ameritech Corporation, Progress Energy, a subsidiary of Duke Energy [NYSE: DUK], and a large financial institution —all a very operational and IT-type focus.


I took on responsibility for patient admissions at Empath Health after about eight months. I also did our professional and community outreach, then later added our health information management and medical records functions. I then took our home health agency responsibility and our Programs for All-Inclusive Care of the Elderly (PACE) programs agency responsibility.

I’ve had a wonderful opportunity at Empath Health to really marry my technology career with an in-depth and hands-on intimate involvement with clinical operations. Coming in with a technology background and then also having the opportunity to be deeply ingrained in clinical operations has really helped me to elevate the practice of the IT team and have them work with the clinical teams to understand how we can better support them in being present at the bedside.

Can you tell me more about how technology and clinical operations work in tandem?

In the work that we do every day, our goal is to enable the clinical teams to provide exceptional care at the bedside. I look at technology as always being an enabler, seeing potential in many of my teams — whether it’s the facilities team, the informatics team, my IT team, even pharmacy and [durable medical equipment (DME)] teams. We are the enablers of the clinical teams. Technology can enable the conversations and the understanding of how clinicians do their work and what they need to do to be supported in providing patients with care.

All staff on our team play an important role. I make it a point to let staff at any level know that they are part of the ecosystem of how we deliver care and that they help to take care of roughly 50,000 patients and their families each year. The work that they do is part of that patient care ecosystem, and it is just critical that they do their roles to enable the clinical teams to do theirs.

There’s an importance and significance to understanding how IT fits in and that the purpose of our existence is to support clinicians in doing their jobs effectively. When we can put equipment in a nurse or physician’s hands to where they have immediate access to the information they need to make a good clinical decision, then we’ve done our jobs.

You will be overseeing Empath’s emergency management systems, coming into that role during a global pandemic and a vicious hurricane season. What is top of mind as you navigate emergency management going forward?

My number one concern right now is just the general fatigue and exhaustion not only across health care workers, but also across the patients, families and the communities that we serve. This has been such a rough 18 months and when you add the uncertainty of a natural disaster such as hurricanes and inclement and damaging weather on top of it, the stress level for all just fundamentally doubles, if not triples.

What we’re really trying to focus on at Empath Health is adaptability. How do we adapt to the changes from COVID-19 and adapt to hurricanes coming at the last minute?

Many of our pre-pandemic emergency plans are not appropriate for today’s climates. Many of our patients, in particular our hospice patients, have very specialized needs, and our pre-pandemic plans had them going to specialized shelters in times of disaster. That’s very difficult now with social distancing and the needs that we have from a COVID-19 safety perspective. We’re having to really be sure that we build flexibility and extra time into our planning, and really focus on effective communication with not only our patients and families, but also our partners in the community that we rely on for our emergency response.

The impacts of COVID are so much more personal to so many more people, as so many of us are trying to manage through our personal lives, support our own families, manage pandemic-related staff absences, and support our colleagues and partnering organizations as well.

You have to take a very holistic approach to the situation and adjust your leadership style to focus on ensuring that you provide that support and respect that each of your team members needs to deal with not only the work that they do every day, but also the work that they need to do to support their own families and friends.

What are the key partnerships you are seeking to identify and grow at Empath Health? What makes these important areas of focus for the organization?

We are focused on expanding our mission to make sure that we meet the needs of underserved communities within our service regions, and so we look for partners that we can walk the journey side-by-side with to increase the effectiveness of our care continuum.

There are different partners from an emergency management perspective. We rely heavily on the Florida Department of Health and the Pinellas County Emergency Management, but we also serve many counties and we’re dependent upon what the initiative is in a variety of areas. We have deep partnerships around emergency management, preparation, and execution communication. We take our lead with them very closely in not just emergency management, but from a mission and vision of growing our health care out further into the community organizations that are like-minded and share our passion for extending exemplary health care to all.

We are finding new ways to contribute to bettering the lives of the communities that we serve, looking for those partners that focus on areas such as meeting the needs of the underserved groups and meeting the needs of the elderly and aging populations.

Larger hospital systems are also key partners for us. Our primary hospital systems from Empath are Baycare Health System and HCA Healthcare (NYSE: HCA). From Stratum, Sarasota Memorial Hospital is a huge partner for us. We also partner with groups such as the Area Agency on Aging (AAA), which is an eldercare locator organization. Much of our work through our PACE organization also focuses on senior living communities and how to improve the social and medical connections that fragile seniors experience.

What will be the key opportunities for Empath in terms of technology in 2021 and 2022?

From a telehealth perspective we have all shifted gears dramatically to continue facilitating connections and care to our patients. We are very focused on the holistic approach of how technology can enhance the care experience.

We also rolled out our virtual reality program, Project Empathy VR. The isolation is so significant in both our hospice and PACE programs with the impacts of the pandemic that we wanted to create opportunities to bring people together in a safe manner. We could do that using virtual reality technology, though we started putting the wheels in motion on it before COVID hit.

We just recently took delivery of two robots. We’re starting the initial provisioning of the first robot. We envision using it to enhance our communication with our facility-based patients. We’re looking for any opportunity to move forward with the leverage that technology gives us assistance in making deeper connections.

The opportunities in technology and hospice are really limited only by our intellectual curiosity. We have learned how to effectively utilize video and virtual methods to connect on a social level now, but looking to the future we could have drones provide pharmaceutical and equipment deliveries. We will only be limited by ourselves, not by the technology at hand.

I think that overall we will continue to find more opportunities to utilize telehealth. We’ve even utilized it to connect hospice patients with incarcerated children to say their final goodbyes. We’ve worked with several of the prison facilities in the State of Florida to arrange those touch points with our patients.

There’s no certainty in the way of reimbursement. Certainly how [the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)] treats telehealth as we move forward to some extent may shape the types of interactions that we proceed with. However, telehealth is now a fundamental part of clinical care, and so I’m hopeful CMS will recognize that and continue to keep it funded — if not funded even more deeply.

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