Health Systems Grow Hospice, Palliative Services Via Philanthropy

Health systems are increasingly growing their hospice and palliative care service lines, with philanthropy among the key ways to fuel these programs’ sustainability.

Providers across the continuum have felt the impact of workforce and economic strains in recent years. The pandemic has only exacerbated issues such as rising wages and staffing shortages, while also contending with falling philanthropic support during tough financial times. Some hospices have temporarily halted or shuttered their programs due to a lack of funding or staff.

Community donations and philanthropic fundraising efforts have been a crucial part of growing much needed palliative and hospice services, according to Kaitlin Czurylo, director of annual giving at the NorthShore Hospitals Foundation, part of Endeavor Health. A swelling base of patients and families are accessing these services across various points of the continuum, driving demand for greater funding support, Czurylo said.


“The ups and downs of the last few years have some health care and hospital systems tapering down philanthropic support, and palliative and hospice have been no exception,” Czurylo told Hospice News. “A lot of this support comes from donor dollars that are flexible and able to be used for things like additional wraparound services like music therapy, additional staff for increased patient touch points, or enhanced education and career experiences to help retain staff.”

Funding palliative, bereavement care

Illinois-based Endeavor Health serves more than 1.3 million patients across more than 300 locations and nine hospitals in the Chicago area. The health system offers hospice and palliative care services, primary and emergency care, along with rehabilitation services, among others.

Legacy brands NorthShore University HealthSystem, Edward-Elmhurst Health, Northwest Community Healthcare and Swedish Hospital have recently unified under the Endeavor Health umbrella. Since the unification, the health system has worked with other community- and facility-based providers to offer hospice services.


“Palliative care is a strong focus in terms of coordinating and managing patients wherever they are,” Czurylo said. “It’s not necessarily a revenue generator, but it’s an important part of the continuum of care that we provide. It’s offering continuing education for nurses, clinicians and other disciplines without them facing a financial burden. That’s an incredibly important part of not just retention, but also inspiring young professionals to step into this part of a person’s health care journey. It’s also about having extra layers of employee benefits and a wider scope of wellness support and assistance programs.”

Bereavement programs are another area of hospice care that require ample funding to sustain, according to Melissa Ward, post-acute care executive at Adventist Health, and its Chief Mission and Philanthropy Officer Alex Bryan. The staffing and operational costs involved include grief support staff for group and individual therapies, memorial and community event activities, along with outreach efforts.

“One key focus for us is the development of a quality bereavement program and grief support, not only for the families of patients we have cared for, but also for our communities as a whole,” Ward and Bryan told Hospice News in an email. “Philanthropic support drives our ability to grow this program. We are also exploring our ability to provide bereavement camps for kids. We see this as a significant need amongst our communities.”

Adventist Health’s service region spans more than 90 communities along the western coast of California, Hawaii and Oregon. The nonprofit health system provides hospice, palliative, primary and pediatric care, along with behavioral health, emergency and intensive care services, among others.

Home health and hospice providers’ ability to complete the care continuum is vital within a health care system setting, Bryan and Ward said. Adventist Health has eight licensed hospice locations and provides palliative care support through its home health service line. Many of its palliative patients transition to hospice care when appropriate, they stated.

Supporting hospice and palliative care services requires buy-in from a health system’s leadership, volunteers and staff members, Ward and Bryan said. This involves communicating the value of these services in providing quality care and addressing patients’ needs. Donations received can impact hospice experiences by allowing a health system to help honor patients’ final wishes, whether its support of transportation, lodging or organizing a special event, they indicated.

Higher costs involved with facility-based hospice services represent another significant area of need, according to Carrie Hawro, director and hospice administrator at Aspirus Comfort Care and Hospice Services (ACCHS), part of Wisconsin-based Aspirus Health.

“The largest area of financial need tends to be around room and board costs,” Hawro said in an email to Hospice News. “Many times patients [and their] families struggle when a patient needs placement due to the high cost of room and board.”

Though much of the hospice expenses involved in the cost of care, medical equipment and medications are covered by reimbursement, but costs of room and board in hospital settings can fall on patients and their families, Hawro added. Community donations can help with these costs for patients with an identified financial need, she stated.

Aspirus Health provides care in 13 Wisconsin counties, as well as in upper Michigan and northeastern Minnesota. The health system provides hospice and palliative care, as well as behavioral and pediatric health, assisted living and emergency care, among others. Aspirus Health operates 18 hospitals and roughly 130 outpatient locations.

ACCHS has two inpatient hospice facilities, each with eight patient rooms. Hospice care is also provided in skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, group homes, hospital settings and in the home. The hospice provider has plans to expand its hospice service area to underserved regions in Wisconsin and Michigan, Hawro stated. Its hospice census has been “growing quickly” in recent years.

Fundraising efforts to support ACCHS’ hospice growth have included an annual gala, community events, holiday celebrations and building community donor relationships with local businesses and individuals, according to Hawro. Proceeds help fuel its hospice program and often focus on covering room and board expenses at its inpatient hospice locations, she added.

The benefits of expanding hospice services can trickle across the continuum of health services, Hawro indicated. The return on investment is that patients with earlier access and awareness of hospice can have better outcomes and have less utilization of emergency and high cost care, freeing up clinical capacity in other areas like hospital settings, she explained.

“Investing in hospice education for providers can only benefit these very special patients and give them the best end of life comfort possible,” Hawro said. “It is important to recognize early on when hospice services are needed. This helps keep these patients out of the hospital, where they do not want to be, while also leaving those beds open for the critically ill patients.”

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