North Carolina-based hospice provider Four Seasons has launched a new mobile palliative care unit to reach patients in remote and rural areas.
The mobile clinic will deliver care through six North Carolina counties. It also carries a simulation mannequin for enhanced staff training.
The unit includes an interdisciplinary care team with physicians, advanced practice providers and social workers who will deliver the same level of care that a patient would receive in their home or a clinical office, according to Liesl Vale, marketing coordinator for Four Seasons.
“The Westernmost counties of North Carolina have many communities that are difficult to access, both for patients and providers. Right now, patients who cannot travel easily sometimes have to travel several hours for their visits, which is difficult and inconvenient for them,” Vale told Palliative Care News. “Our staff also has to travel several hours to do home visits, reducing the number of patients we can see. The mobile unit will allow Four Seasons to bring our services directly to these communities so that patients can conveniently see their provider in person without traveling extensive distances.”
The hospice and palliative care provider financed the mobile clinic through charitable donations from the F the James H. Cummings Foundation, The Highlands-Cashiers Health Foundation and Victoria and Dennis Flanagan.
The clinic is also equipped with simulation and other educational technology for training new staff, verifying required competencies and conducting refresher courses for current employees. Four Seasons expects these training capabilities to boost recruitment and retention as well as clinical skills assessment.
Patients in rural communities are often an underserved population when it comes to palliative care and hospice. Providers have wrangled for decades with obstacles that complicate access to rural patients and make their care more expensive.
Rural regions are less likely to have Medicare-certified providers than urban counties. The service areas of the nearest organizations may not extend far enough to reach some of the people in those zones.
Meanwhile, rural providers may struggle to deliver care while contending with lower patient volumes, a smaller labor pool, long-travel times between home visits and the resulting travel costs
For Four Seasons, the mobile unit presents an opportunity to address a growing need among their patient population, according to Chief Clinical Operations Officer Rikki Hooper.
“Community-based palliative care (CBPC) has been shown to not only improve patient health outcomes, but increase patient satisfaction, decrease health care costs, and increase access to hospice through care provided by physicians, advanced practice providers and social workers,” Hooper said in a statement. “In [Western North Carolina] increased demand for CBPC services has led to Four Seasons’ CBPC team caring for over 700 patients in these counties.”