Fleece Takes Helm as Empath Health CEO, Begins ‘One Hospice’ Initiative

Jonathan Fleece is the newly appointed CEO of the Florida-based nonprofit Empath Health following the retirement of his predecessor Rafael Scuillo earlier this week.

Empath provides hospice, home health care, primary care, palliative care, PACE, AIDS and sexual wellness care, and adult day services to a combined total of more than 23,000 individuals. The organization is the parent company of 17 affiliates and two philanthropic foundations.

Fleece came to Empath via its 2020 merger with Stratum Health, where he had been CEO. The son of a nurse and a minister, Fleece said he learned the importance of service early in life.


“I really grew up in health care, and it always resonated with me. We were a service family, and it was just a wonderful sector to be in,” Fleece told Hospice News. “When it really comes down to what brought me to hospice, I share the story that hospice really found me. I wasn’t seeking hospice.”

Empath Health Empath Health
Empath Health CEO Jonathan Fleece

Fleece began his career as a health care lawyer. In 2011, he co-authored the book “The New Age: The Future of Health Care in America,” with the futurist David Houle, which examined the ways the system could evolve in the coming years.

But what brought him to hospice was the bereavement care he and his family received following a loss. This led him to become a hospice volunteer and later a board member at Florida’s Tidewell Hospice, now an Empath affiliate. Over time, his health care career began to move in a new direction.


Like Fleece, Tidewell, a former Stratum affiliate, came to Empath with the merger. Empath also offers hospice care through Suncoast Hospice, Empath Hospice, Hospice of Marion County and Suncoast Hospice of Hillsborough.

Among Fleece’s priorities as he takes the helm is the organization’s “One Empath, One Hospice” initiative, which launches this year.

“In order for us to achieve both the quality and service outcomes that we seek, as well as to achieve our financial strength, as a strategic imperative we have to move forward in a ‘One Hospice’ direction,” Fleece said. “That is basically standardizing our models of care, our support services, and our infrastructure (such as EMR systems). This is also very high on the 2023 agenda.”

The initiative will not include a rebrand of the legacy affiliates, Fleece told Hospice News.

But hospice won’t be the incoming CEO’s only area of focus. The company is partnering with 10 other post-acute care providers to form the Accountable Care Organization (ACO), Responsive Care Partners, including several hospice and palliative care operators.

Empath has also been stepping up its investments in care models like PACE and adult day services. It opened a new adult day center, including a suite of veterans-specific services, in November of last year.

The company’s affiliate Suncoast acquired its PACE program in 2012, prior to the formation of Empath in 2014. Under Empath’s wings, the program has continued to expand.

“Health care historically has just been so fragmented, so siloed and uncoordinated. It increases costs. It reduces outcomes. It makes the patient experience less than ideal,” Fleece said. “It sort of circles all the way back to what Empath and full-life care really is, to bring health care closer together and do better with care coordination, care navigation, and achieve better outcomes for less cost.”

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