The nonprofit post-acute care providers Empath Health and Trustbridge have signed a memorandum of understanding to begin an affiliation between the two organizations.
Discussions of a potential affiliation began about a year ago, according to Empath Health CEO Jonathan Fleece. The organizations had a prior connection through the Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Association, as well as a joint venture with several other providers, the Responsive Care Solutions Accountable Care Organization (ACO).
As those conversations progressed, leaders from both operators began to recognize some important symmetries between their organizations’ cultures. For Trustbridge, the affiliation also represents an opportunity to build out their range of services.
“Trustbridge, when they learned about Empath’s expansion into a lot of our full-life care services — home health, our complete care division, which includes PACE and other value-based initiatives — they started to get intrigued and interested about how our direction could bring new services and programs to the Palm Beach, Broward County, south Florida area,” Fleece said.
Trustbridge provides comprehensive care that addresses the needs of patients at any stage of their illness with services including palliative care, hospice care, grief support services, pharmacy and durable medical equipment.
Empath’s business lines include 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.
Empath offers hospice care through several brands, including Tidewell Hospice, Suncoast Hospice, Empath Hospice, Hospice of Marion County and Suncoast Hospice of Hillsborough. After closing with Trustbridge, the organization will operate seven hospice brands.
Empath Health, in its current form, emerged in 2020 from a merger with Stratum Health, where Fleece was previously CEO. The combined organization later unified their businesses under the Empath Health brand. Trustbridge, however, will retain its current brands post-affiliation, which is expected to close in early 2024.
The transaction is expected to yield some cost synergies as well an ability to leverage each legacy organization’s experience and expertise, according to Tarrah Lowry, COO of Trustbridge.
“We’re going to be able to save some money financially on health insurance and on bringing contracts together and that sort of thing,” Lowry told Hospice News. “We can look at both programs and see things that Trustbridge is really good at and the things that Empath is really good at and be able to share our best practices. That is going to make both of us even better.”
The transaction will expand Empath’s current footprint to Florida’s east coast and will give the company a larger foothold in the southern region of the state, Fleece said. Combined with Trustbridge, Empath’s hospice operations alone will cover 1-in-5 seniors in its home state, with an average daily hospice census of about 5,000 patients.
The affiliation is also expected to better position Empath to compete with other large providers, as well as give them a leg up on payer negotiations.
“We believe strongly that, especially for the not-for-profits, to continue to thrive we have to be creating new systems, clinical models, care team models, processes, technology and innovation,” Fleece said. “We have to be creating all of those fundamental components to providing extraordinary care. We have to create those models in a standardized way so that we can continue to scale and grow and have more resources to put to the clinical focus.”