Local Hospice office affected by layoffs

By Jeff Phillips jphillips@civitasmedia.com

January 23, 2014

Hospice of the Bluegrass announced Thursday that it will reduce its staff by 7 percent, laying off 46 employees of its 617 member staff. Officials said the layoffs result from increasing changes in the health care system.

The Harlan office, which serves residents of Bell and Harlan counties, is impacted by the staff reductions, according to the organization’s administrators.

While information was not readily available, Deede Byrne, chief operating officer, said she believed the layoffs in Harlan includes two nursing assistants, two social workers and a chaplain.

“It is unfortunate,” she said. “There were a few staff members affected at the Harlan office.”

No nurses were laid off, she said.

The staff reductions stem from slashes to medical reimbursements, new regulatory requirement and increased costs, according to a press release.

“Hospice programs nationally have faced significant cuts in reimbursements and are also dealing with new regulatory requirements,” the agency said in a prepared statement. “Since 2009, payments to hospice have been reduced over 11 percent. In addition, new regulatory requirements and increased data collection requirements have brought added financial burdens.”

While more physicians are recommending hospice to patients than in past years, the average time a patient uses Hospice is much shorter than the six-month benefit permits, said Byrne.

She noted that half of the patients die in only about two weeks after becoming a part of the Hospice experience.

“Patients are coming to us later in their disease process. Half of our patients die in less than 15 days. That’s a really short time to be in Hospice and have an optimal hospice experience,” said Byrne.

“The terminally ill, their families and the medical community have relied on Hospice of the Bluegrass for end-of-life expertise for more than 35 years. We will continue to provide that quality care to those who need it,” said Gretchen Brown, president and chief executive-officer for the organization.

Therefore, the agency must adjust staffing to patient numbers and needs, she said.

“It has been up to us (Hospice) to define excellent hospice care in the past and it will be up to us to define excellent Hospice care in the future…,” said Byrne.

“This decision was made with great sadness and regret,” said Brown. “We care about the employees who are losing their positions and will do what we can to make a difficult situation more bearable.”

Employees affected have been offered severance packages.

Byrne said the administration is “always hopeful” the layoffs will be temporary, but the decreases in patient numbers seen in the past would indicate otherwise.

Hospice of the Bluegrass provides end-of-life care and support for terminally ill patients in their homes and nursing homes in 32 counties across central, southeastern and northern Kentucky, and at the Hospice Care Centers in Lexington and Hazard.

In addition to Harlan, furloughs were reported at Hazard, Corbin, Pikeville, Lexington, Frankfort, Cynthiana and Florence.

Byrne said the news of the layoffs is “very tough on our staff who are remaining as well as our staff who are leaving.”

Jeff Phillips may be reached at 606-573-4510 or on Twitter @Jeff_hde