Former VITAS Manager Becomes VP of Operations; Hawaii E.D. Doc Turns Hospice Medical Director

Former VITAS Manager Returns to Fill Operational VP Role

Chemed Corporation (NYSE: CHEM) subsidiary VITAS Healthcare recently named Laury Bliss as its new vice president of operations in southern California.

She returns to the company after nearly three years at the helm of San Diego-based The Elizabeth Hospice as its chief strategy officer. Prior to that, she was the senior general manager of VITAS’ San Diego and Orange County areas in the Golden State.

In her new role, she’ll oversee the company’s staff providing care across five counties in the state’s southern region.


“I am thrilled to once again serve VITAS patients in delivering the highest quality of clinical, emotional and spiritual care services for those nearing the end of life,” said Bliss in a recent company announcement. My commitment to the southern California community is unwavering—and I look forward to partnering with our communities with passion and a great sense of purpose. My focus on bedside care and operational best practices supports our mission of putting patients and families first.”

Bliss has more than 18 years of hospice leadership experience, along with 12 years of managing hospice and home health operations across multi-site locations.

Florida-based VITAS operates 49 hospice programs (including 26 inpatient units) throughout 14 states and in the District of Columbia. The home health and hospice provider employs roughly 9,509 staff nationwide and reached an average daily census of 17,360 patients in the second quarter of this year.


Kauai Hospice Recruits Retired Emergency Doc as Medical Director

Dr. William “Monty” Downs is stepping into a new role as medical director of Hawaii-based Kaua‘i Hospice after retiring from 50 years in the emergency department at Wilcox Health Medical Centert.

Wilcox Health is part of Hawaii Pacific Health. Downs retired from his emergency physician role there in April. In 1983, he became the Kauai area’s first board-certified emergency room physician, and he first joined the medical center two years before emergency medicine was recognized as a specialty in the state, according to local news.

A New York native, he began practicing medicine in the Aloha State in 1972 and has seen an evolution of health care take place.

“In the mid-’70s, our job was to know a lot about a lot of things,” Downs told the news outlet. “We may not know as much as each specialist, but we know a lot. You [had] to maintain an attitude of really appreciating being a part of peoples’ lives. We see life at its most vulnerable state.”

Kaua‘i Hospice has served patients since 1983 and is the only hospice provider located on the “Garden Island” in Lihu‘e, Hawaii. In addition to hospice, the nonprofit provider also offers palliative care and grief support.

Hospice utilization in Hawaii reached 45.4% in 2018, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. This fell slightly under the national average of 50.3% that year.

Though utilization runs low compared to other states, the need for hospice care is high in Hawaii. A swelling aging population is rising demand for serious and terminal illness care statewide. Seniors will represent more than a quarter (nearly 27%) of the state’s overall population by 2030, a hike from currently 19.6%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“I very much hope that … I can help keep Kaua‘i Hospice functioning well in the very important community niche that it addresses,” said Downs in other local news reports. “In the ER, where I worked for 50 years, we can often get seriously ill people through their illness, and that is spectacular. Patients in hospice, however, have an illness that can’t be cured. Working with people in these situations can still be very helpful to them, and satisfying to us, as we help them live their life as comfortably and meaningfully as possible.”

Empath Health Announces New Senior-Level Legal Executive

Florida-based Empath Health recently appointed Christy Hendricks as general counsel and chief mission legal officer. Hendricks will oversee the company’s compliance, public policy, legal and legislative affairs staff teams.

Prior to joining Empath, she was chief legal officer at OU Medicine, an academic medical system affiliated with the University of Oklahoma. Overall, Hendricks brings more than 20 years of legal counsel experience working with nonprofit health care systems.

“She also has a deep understanding of Empath’s mission for serving our communities with full life care for all,” said Empath Health CEO Rafael Sciullo in a recent company announcement. “We look forward to partnering with Christy on many projects including regulatory matters, corporate support services, clinical service line support and plans for future growth.”

Hendricks will help to shape Empath’s future, Jonathan Fleece, the company’s president, added.

Empath Health is the parent company of Tidewell Hospice, Suncoast Hospice and Suncoast Hospice of Hillsborough. The nonprofit provider offers a range of other senior care services that includes hospice, home health, palliative, PACE, and personal care.

Empath serves more than 12,000 patients daily across the Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida areas. Empath reported having more than 22,000 patients enrolled in its “full life care” services.

The company merged with Stratum Health in 2020, and has been on a growth trajectory since. Earlier this year Empath received a green light to expand services across three counties in its home state. Most recently, Empath affiliated with Hospice of Marion County in Florida.

Hospice of the Panhandle CEO Retires

Margaret Cogswell is retiring after a 35-year tenure at the helm of West Virginia-based Hospice of the Panhandle.

She has served as the hospice’s executive director and CEO since 1987. Cogswell will leave the role next August, with the search “underway” for her replacement, Hospice of the Panhandle announced in a recent social media announcement.

“She has grown the organization into a major health care provider that cares for 1,200+ patients and their families every year,” the nonprofit provider stated in the announcement.

Hospice of the Panhandle has provided end-of-life services in West Virginia for more than 40 years, and also offers palliative care and pediatric hospice and palliative care. It became certified to offer hospice under the Medicare benefit in 1990, which Cogswell told local news was a “game changer,” in end-of-life care.

Prior to the birth of Hospice of Panhandle, she was an oncology nurse at a local hospital until training to become a hospice volunteer and joining a group of community leaders that eventually helped to form the nonprofit organization.

“Quite frankly, this organization would not exist without the community,” said Cogswell in a company announcement. “We were founded in 1980 by a small group of people from Trinity Episcopal Church in Martinsburg who reached out to others to join them to create a support system for those facing the end of life. This has been my life’s work. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than serving our community’s patients and families during such a vulnerable time in their lives.”

NHPCO Appoints New Finance VP

Christopher Arnold recently became the vice president of finance for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO).

Arnold joins the Washington D.C.-based advocacy group after serving as senior director of financial reporting and compliance at the American Pharmacists Association. Since 2006 he has held leadership roles in health care association accounting and finance teams.

“Christopher has exactly the kind of experience we were looking for in this position. With his background in both the association and business worlds,” said NHPCO CFO Cathy Gibney in a company announcement. “He is going to help ensure that NHPCO continues to provide world-class financial support services for our members and partners.”

Arnold was also the controller and director of finance and administration for the Association of Clinical Research Professionals. Additionally, he previously served in various business analysis, management and finance roles at companies such as KMPG International Limited, Nextel Communications and Beers & Cutler.

He now turns his sights to helping improve financial processes and procedures in the realm of hospice and palliative care.

“I look forward to working with the NHPCO staff to continue improving our finance systems to ensure smooth operations,” said Arnold in the announcement. “NHPCO members provide essential care to patients and families across the country. I am excited to join the organization that supports them in that mission.”

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