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County’s only nonprofit hospice to shut down - The Galveston County Daily News : Local News

November 26, 2014

County’s only nonprofit hospice to shut down

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Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 12:00 am

TEXAS CITY — The county’s only not-for-profit hospice organization will soon cease operations. The Hospice Care Team, which provides services in Galveston and Brazoria counties, stopped accepting new patients earlier this week, but will continue to provide care for its current roster of patients, its board president said.

Hospice Care Team provides end-of-life services, including in-home medical care, bereavement services and counseling for family members.

“This is really heartbreaking,” Hospice Care Team board President Ron Martin said. “We looked at every option to stay afloat, but none seemed doable.”

The group’s board voted Monday to start the process of disbanding.

Hospice Care Team’s 34 Galveston County and 23 Brazoria County patients will continue to receive care, Martin said. The organization’s 52 staff members will remain on the job, as well, until services are no longer needed for the remaining patients.

“We will continue to provide care, pay all our bills and pay our staff, because we want to do the right thing by everybody,” Martin said.

At a time when the for-profit industry is booming in this region, Hospice Care Team’s nonprofit model has struggled. That is mainly because it is among only a few hospice providers offering care despite patients’ ability to pay.

“We were looking at $500,000 in unfunded care to patients last year,” Martin said. “We just couldn’t maintain the services as we have had for so long.”

Hospice Care Team, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, was founded on the premise that anyone could receive hospice services despite their ability to pay.

Martin said 17 percent to 20 percent of its patient load was unfunded care.

That is more than twice the percentage of most nonprofit hospice providers, said Kirsti Krejs the president and CEO of Texas Non-Profit Hospice Alliance.

“Hospice (Care Team) did an enormous amount of charity care,” she said. “They have given wonderful care over the years and have been very generous about that and not putting a cap on their indigent care.”

Krejs said families that would normally turn to Hospice Care Team will now have to search elsewhere to find services. For those who lack the funds or insurance, that search may be near impossible.

“A lot of for-profits will not take indigent care,” she said. “If they do, it will be very few patients. It puts the community in a very tough position.

“We don’t want to see families calling around at what is already a very difficult time.”

She said that even those who search may find services are not available immediately.

“They will be needing help now, not two weeks later,” Krejs said.

Still, Hospice Care Team’s woes, while not unique, are not necessarily the norm across the state, she said.

“I don’t want people to come away with an impression that the nonprofit model is a dying (operation model),” she said. “As with any business, the factors have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.”

Just three years ago, Hospice Care Team was looking forward to building its own center on donated property. But as demand increased and funding dwindled, those plans were dashed.

Martin said that he had to cash in a pair of $50,000 certificates of deposit just to meet the organization’s $500,000 payroll two weeks ago.

Adding to the financial strain, federal reimbursement for services never met the costs of providing services, Martin said.

“The demands for paperwork and staffing dictated by the government cripple small (hospice organizations) like ours,” Martin said.

Mark B. Cohen, the senior vice president for the Florida-based Caring Foundations, said Hospice Care Team isn’t alone in its struggles.

“Twenty years ago, hospice was 90 percent to 95 percent not-for-profit,” he said. “Today it’s 70 percent for-profit.”

Caring Foundations works with nonprofit care providers to help those groups pool their buying power for vendor services and to manage bookkeeping and other administrative tasks. The group also handles working with managed care and federal medical programs on reimbursement for services.

“We are trying to create an opportunity for community-based hospices to come together,” Cohen said. “They can leverage a national size but retain the local leadership, local board or directors and locally define what the end of life care needs are.”

Such an effort won’t help Hospice Care Team. Martin said he and others have reached out to a Houston-based hospice group that may be willing to take over the counties it serves.

Contact Mainland Editor T.J. Aulds at 409-683-5334 or tjaulds@galvnews.com.