Florida-based Hospice of Marion County (HMC) will affiliate with the nonprofit senior services provider Empath Health.
The two organizations have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to begin the process.
Empath Health is the parent company of Tidewell Hospice, Suncoast Hospice, and Suncoast Hospice of Hillsborough. This year, the State of Florida issued certificates of need allowing Empath to enter three additional counties.
The Empath affiliation will better position HMC for the evolving payment landscape, including the value-based insurance design model (VBID) demonstration, according to HMC CEO Rick Bourne.
“We started seeing the handwriting on the wall of what the future will bring in relationship to Medicare Advantage carve-in and VBID and knew we had to prepare. Medicare Advantage penetration in our county is 53%,” Bourne told Hospice News. “We started having conversations along the way and have talked to a number of other organizations as well. But we very quickly realized that Empath is very mission-driven, very much the same culture as Hospice of Marion County.”
HMC’s patient census currently hovers around 390, although it has reached as high as 400, according to Bourne.
The transaction includes two additional agencies in HMC’s portfolio, the palliative care provider Carewell Supportive Care, and the durable medical equipment (DME) supplier Accent Medical, which specializes in hospice. HMC also operates four thrift stores to help finance its programs.
Empath and HMC expect to complete integration by early 2023. HMC will not rebrand, and will retain its current executive team, including Bourne.
“The reason that Empath and then (legacy) Stratum came together, even though we’ve changed our name to Empath now, is to truly seek opportunities for continued collaboration, affiliations, to really preserve the not-for-profit mission around not only hospice but as we call it — impactful life care,” Jonathan Fleece, president of Empath Health, told Hospice News. “We’re really dedicated to growth, not just for size sake, but for so many of the market opportunities, and just make sure that that we’re continuing our mission.”
Empath Health merged with Stratum Health System in 2020 with the intention to offer a full continuum of home- and community-based care. The company offers hospice, home health care, primary care, palliative care, PACE, AIDS and sexual wellness care, and adult day services, among others.
The affiliation will help HMC further develop business lines other than hospice, including home health and palliative care in the near term, and potentially primary care and PACE down the road. Meanwhile, Empath will gain a hospice foothold in Marion County, where they already have a home health presence. The affiliation will also expand their DME business with the integration of Accent Medical.
“We actually have quite an extensive DME service that this past year has also expanded to the territory of Tidewell Hospice. We have been providing it at Empath probably for the past two decades,” Empath CEO Rafael Sciullo told Hospice News. “So it is a service that we believe in. Certainly, we want to provide that service within our integrated network of care, and it just builds on our pharmacy services as well which we will both be expanding and providing together.”