By Rachel Pritchett
A battle is brewing over who should provide in-home hospice care in Kitsap County.
The director of the largest current provider, Hospice of Kitsap County, says two potential newcomers being considered by the state could seriously affect the care his organization now provides to the dying.
“This can easily damage us,” said Jim Pledger, executive director of Hospice of Kitsap County.
The state Department of Health recently determined that Kitsap County could accommodate one additional provider of in-home hospice care. Hospice care providers dispatch nurses, aides, therapists and dietitians to patients’ homes.
Hospice of Kitsap County is the largest local Medicare-certified provider. The other, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, provides in-home hospice care for enrollees in its programs.
Not one, but two other organizations want to join Hospice of Kitsap County in providing services locally. They are Tacoma-based Franciscan Health System and HCR ManorCare, based in Toledo, Ohio.
To help decide who the winner will be, the Department of Health will host a public hearing at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Sylvan Way branch of Kitsap Regional Library. Its decision is due June 23.
Pledger said numbers that the Department of Health used
when it determined there was need for one more provider were from
2005 through 2007, but not 2008, when Hospice of Kitsap County was
able to take on
20 percent more patients with its new hospice-care center in Bremerton.
“To me, that’s the real fantasy of this thing,” Pledger said.
He also said that Franciscan and HCR ManorCare are huge organizations with deep pockets. Hospice of Kitsap County, by contrast, is a stand-alone organization, which puts it at “a distinct disadvantage.”
Pledger said his organization’s programs, such as bereavement help in schools and the workplace, would go by the wayside.
“If we were to become financially strapped, those are the programs that would go first,” he said.
Representatives of Franciscan Health System, the biggest in-home hospice provider in the state, have a different perspective.
“What really we’re about is that all residents of Kitsap County have access to good hospice care,” said Mark Rake-Marona, Franciscan’s director of hospice and palliative care.
He said that with its just-opened hospital in Gig Harbor, St. Anthony Hospital, Franciscan is in an excellent position to provide a continuum of care.
“I would say it has served us well to be connected with the hospital,” Rake-Marona said.
In addition, it has Franciscan Hospice House, a 20-bed inpatient facility in University Place.
Franciscan staff would make visits throughout Kitsap County, he said. No facility would be built here, “at least for the time being.”
Franciscan has shown an interest in Kitsap dating at least back to 2006, when it opened its Port Orchard Medical Clinic.
“Our demographics of Kitsap are that not only is it growing, but the demographics of the older population is growing,” Rake-Marona said.
Franciscan Health System has five Puget Sound hospitals including St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, a group of clinics, its hospice house and foundation.
HCR ManorCare’s Web site states it is the nation’s third-largest provider of hospice care, with a presence in about 110 markets.
It has 60,000 employees working in 500 health-care centers of various sorts. Its in-home hospice care program is known as Heartland Hospice.
The public meeting promises to be interesting.
Pledger, of Hospice of Kitsap County, is not impressed with the process.
“We have the capability to serve anyone and everyone in this county that needs hospice care,” he said.
The Washington State Department of Health will hold a public hearing at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Sylvan Way branch of Kitsap Regional Library, 1301 Sylvan Way in Bremerton, to consider applications by two organizations to provide in-home hospice care in Kitsap County. The organizations are Franciscan Health System and HCR ManorCare. There will be opportunities for public comment, and written comments will be accepted, as well. For more information, contact Karen Nidermayer with the Department of Health’s Certificate of Need Program at (360) 236-2957.