After taking hits during the pandemic, nonprofit hospices are seeing supplemental revenue from resale thrift stores rebound.
Many hospice organizations operate these stores to raise money for their programs. Several had to close these stores during the pandemic, losing valuable revenue sources for their under-funded services.
Some are now seeing those funds trend in positive directions as COVID’s impacts ease. Economic forces are also pushing up resale income, as inflation drives consumers to seek lower prices.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in resale shop sales,” Hospice & Community Care CEO Jennifer Graham told Hospice News. “Towards the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 is when we really started to see what we would deem a return to normal. There is some rebounding. We can’t attribute all of that to economic forces or rebounding from COVID, but I certainly think these are factors.”
Though the pandemic is not the sole driver of hospice resale trends, it has had a huge impact.
In addition to temporary or permanent closures, the outbreak also depleted thrift store workforce, who are often volunteers. So even as COVID restrictions eased, allowing resale shops to reopen, many hospices had to rebuild their depleted cadres of volunteers.
The attrition of volunteers has pressed down resale dollars and has adversely affected other aspects of hospice operations as well, according to Kathy Rabon, chief philanthropy and marketing officer and executive director at Suncoast Hospice Foundation, an affiliate of Empath Health. The nonprofit operates three stores, dubbed Suncoast Hospice Resale Shops, in its home state of Florida.
“We rely heavily on the volunteer core that makes up such an important aspect of the hospice resale stores,” Rabon told Hospice News. “Not only do they provide the ability to operate these stores, but they are also advocates and people who represent the organization out in the community — whether they’re in the store out in their own neighborhoods. They’re really important to maintaining that community voice, along with resale support and revenue.”
But in late 2022 and early 2023, providers are seeing signs of recovery.
The past year has brought Hospice & Community Care its greatest resale revenue boost in recent memory, according to Graham. The South Carolina-based nonprofit has operated two resale stores for the past 18 years.
Towards the end of 2022, the organization saw thrift shop sales rise 25% compared to the same period in 2021, Graham indicated. This was in part due to the May 2022 reopening of its larger resale shop, which had shut down during the pandemic. The shop, which has relocated to a bigger space in a more populated region, represents roughly 75% of Hospice & Community Care’s resale revenue.
Historically, those thrift shop dollars have represented about 3% of Hospice & Community Care’s annual income, according to Graham. While this may seem like a minimal amount, the proceeds can have a significant impact on providers’ otherwise underfunded programs, she added.
Suncoast has seen a similar uptick. Despite some pandemic-related lags, the hospice’s resale revenue has risen year-over-year, Rabon explained. Last year, Suncoast’s resale shops brought $2.136 million in revenue, up from an average of more than $1 million in years prior, she said.
As Graham pointed out, many hospices use thrift store revenue to support services that aren’t fully covered by the Medicare Hospice Benefit or other payer sources. This can include more robust grief programs or palliative care, among others.
For some hospices, palliative care is a loss leader, often financed through philanthropic donations or other fundraising, according to Graham.
“In the grand scheme of things, resale revenue can be significant for a nonprofit, because that 3% is also very similar to the amount of unfunded care that we provide to patients that don’t have a payer source,” Graham said. “It’s always been central to our commitment to care for vulnerable populations in the community that may not have the same access to care as others. We also run a free medical [durable medical equipment (DME)] closet for the community for whenever someone is in need of a walker, wheelchair, canes, crutches, etc. Purchasing or repairing those items is funded through some of what we receive in the resale shops. We also use these funds to support bereavement programs.”
Suncoast Hospice also allocates some of its resale revenue to support its community-based palliative programs, Rabon told Hospice News. The funds also partially defray the costs of specialized programs for veterans, pet programs, community-based palliative care and training for family caregivers, she stated.
Additionally, resale shop proceeds can help address family and caregiver needs outside of those directly related to the patients’ medical condition, Rabon added.
“It’s important to understand that the resale revenue covers needs of people and families in critical life stages,” Rabon said. “In addition to the revenue that’s coming in that we use back in the community, these stores often play an important role in the grieving process. Sometimes it’s the last piece of something a caregiver is donating from a lost family member, and we train our pickup drivers to recognize that when someone is letting go of items – to be there with compassion. There’s many different facets of impact to a hospice resale store beyond just the revenue.”