Alaska-based Bartlett Regional Hospital recently received approval from legislators to relaunch hospice and home health services nearly a year after a local provider shut down. The news came shortly before the retirement and resignation of the hospital’s CEO and COO.
The hospital sought hospice licensure in the certificate of need state after Hospice and Home Care of Juneau (HHCJ) halted services last October, citing high staffing costs and insufficient nursing resources.
Bartlett Regional Hospital in January began the process of taking over HHCJ’s hospice and home health patients to fill care delivery gaps in southeast Alaska.
The hospital, which is owned by the City and Borough of Juneau, expects to begin hospice and home health services in the area by the end of August, according to Kim Stout, executive director for post-acute care at Bartlett Regional Hospital.
“We still just have one nurse trained right now,” Stout said during a board meeting. “And so we can’t just accept a large number of patients. They have to be on-call 24/7. But we’re here, we’re going to do a slow opening and we’re going to start accepting patients.”
HHCJ received Medicare certification in 2006 and was operated by Catholic Community Services prior to its closure. The home health and hospice provider’s additional services included bereavement care, as well as free medical equipment loans for wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, bath benches, bedside commodes or canes.
Bartlett Regional Hospital will operate its former office location in Juneau, Alaska, which will serve as a hub for hospice employees providing home-based services in the area.
Alongside the hospice and home health growth, the hospital system has faced its own set of health care workforce challenges and financial headwinds, according to CEO David Keith.
Weeks after receiving the greenlight to launch hospice services, the hospital recently announced the departure of two executive leaders, Keith and CFO Sam Muse. Keith announced his retirement after nearly a year at the hospital’s helm.
“Over the past year we have addressed our financial crisis and put ourselves on a path to sustainability,” Keith said in a statement. “After stepping back and reflecting on the organization’s many achievements, I am ready to return to retirement and enjoy time with my grandkids. My hope for the future is that there’s stronger unity between the assembly and the board about the strategic direction of the hospital.”
Muse’ resignation after less than a year in the role was a “personal decision” to spend more time with family, he indicated in an announcement.
“Over the last year Sam has worked tirelessly to make tough decisions to correct the hospital’s financial position,” Keith said in a statement. “I recognize the toll this has taken on his family. He will be incredibly difficult to replace.”
In addition to both a new CEO and COO during the past year, other recent leadership changes at Bartlett Regional Hospital have included the departure of former COO Vlad Toca in January 2022. Prior to that, Bradley Grigg, former chief behavioral health officer, resigned in September 2021.
Nearly a year later, Grigg was arrested by local authorities on two counts of theft for allegedly stealing roughly $108,000 from the hospital for personal items and travel expenses. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The hospital’s board members raised concerns in a recent meeting around the leadership departures, as well as issues such as psychiatric clinician shortages and executive management practices that, “resulted in numerous employees in key departments leaving the hospital,” they stated in local news reports.
Any links between the behavioral health delivery challenges and changes in leadership were “misleading” to community and board members, according to Erin Hardin, director of community relations at Bartlett Regional Hospital.
“The CEO and CFO departures are unrelated to each other,” Hardin told local news. “The concerns raised by a board member in last week’s board meeting are unrelated to the departure of two senior leaders. [Reports of] the events together is a mischaracterization, leading the community to believe the events are related.”
The reports featured allegations of insufficient staffing volumes at the hospital that have led to inadequate behavioral health care and patient staff safety risks. The reports alleged that some behavioral health patients went without medical attention, supervision or medications due to a lack of clinical staff oversight in the hospital’s psychiatric ward.
“We ran into an issue where we were going to run into a gap where there was not going to be a psychiatrist in town for the entire service,” Dr. Nicholas Rosenfeld, Bartlett Regional Hospital’s chief of staff and board of directors member, told local news. “Which means that the nurse practitioners cannot see patients without a collaborating physician. This is a big emergency.”
The hospital is working towards improved behavioral health care outcomes as it launches hospice and home health care into the community, among other services, according to Hardin.
The hospital in July completed its acquisition of a local nursing home, Wildflower Court. Picking up the 61-bed nursing facility is a move intended to expand its scope of post-acute services, including hospice, home health, behavioral health and palliative care. Increased care coordination and operational efficiencies, as well as reduced rehospitalization rates and improved outcomes were also goals of the transaction, the hospital indicated in a press release.
“We have really tackled a financial crisis head-on and put ourselves on a better path as a hospital,” Hardin said in a local news report. “We have completed the Aurora Behavioral Health Center and are working on opening up crisis services. And we are now reopening home health and hospice services to the community. I want our community to remember that and know that we are here despite transitions.”