By Jill Mendlen
The recent closure of Scripps Health’s hospice program is certainly a sad conclusion to the legacy of San Diego Hospice.
It’s only natural to wonder what it means for the landscape of hospice care in San Diego when Scripps Health, an excellent organization, decides to close their hospice program which was ranked among the best in the region.
Challenges do not define us
My career began when I was 15 years old and has included hospital nursing, long-term care management, managed care and hospice. I have seen my fair share of change, but this moment in time may truly be the most tumultuous and dynamic in our healthcare system’s history.
I am concerned the closing of another high-profile hospice provider will cause anxiety within the broader community. It saddens me that patients, their loved ones, physicians and other provider partners may pause for even one moment to worry about what this all means.
I can assure you there are still enough exemplary, community-based organizations solely dedicated to hospice care in San Diego County available to fill the need. What happened to Scripps is truly unfortunate, but I don’t want San Diegans to worry about quality or access to care being compromised. Hospice remains an incredibly strong, comprehensive and wonderful program within San Diego and nationwide.
In fact, CMS (the government entity responsible for the oversight of all Medicare and Medicaid programs and services) just launched a new resource on the Medicare website where you can research hospice providers throughout San Diego County by quality, size and other vital statistics. I am pleased to note that my own Lightbridge Hospice and Palliative Care is one of the top three hospice providers in San Diego.
How those seeking hospice care can select a program to meet their needs
I’m often asked how to properly evaluate a hospice, especially when there is upheaval. Here are some select criteria I recommend:
- How long has the company been in business? You should always do your homework, but companies in an early life cycle (five years or less) demand more scrutiny.
- Are they accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting organization? The Joint Commission, one of the three government-approved accrediting organizations, is an independent, nonprofit national organization that certifies healthcare organizations and programs based upon their ability to meet quality and regulatory requirements, as well as standards. Their surveys occur every three years. Lightbridge is proud to have received full accreditation during every survey cycle since our inception in 2003.
- Visit Medicare’s “Hospice Compare.” This is a user-friendly website that ranks organizations based on the quality of care they provide. Simply enter the name of a hospice or zip code to see rankings and performance indicators.
Hospice continues to grow and thrive
My own LightBridge Hospice and Palliative Care is celebrating its 15th year and we, along with many others in this field, share a deep sense of pride and everlasting devotion to our craft. There are nearly 30 certified and licensed hospices within San Diego County, according to the Medicare “Hospice Compare” website.
If you’re curious about our secret to staying agile and quickly adapting to an ever-fluid, ever-changing healthcare climate, here is what works for us:
- Building a committed team: I feel our staff understands and embodies who we are. We instill a sense of self into our brand and teams within our organization. We empower our people to design programs and systems to enhance our effectiveness. This has led to overall employee satisfaction and a consistently high-performing team.
- Managing expenses with changing reimbursement and regulatory systems: We must be diligent about controlling costs while being mindful not to sacrifice the quality of care we provide to our patients and their loved ones. It is not always easy, but we understand what it takes to be successful.
- Staying ahead of changes: We meet with our teams on a routine basis to keep them abreast of local, state and federal changes impacting our program operations. The goal is to position ourselves in advance of imminent transition, particularly around regulations, insurance practices, competition, and reimbursement.
I am reassured because every day in San Diego highly skilled, competent, kind professionals show up in a profoundly meaningful way for patients and their loved ones to bring comfort, support and dignity to their end-of-life journey. Most hospice professionals lead the only way they know how and that’s with an open heart.
We will be there to pick up where the others left off so patients and their loved ones, especially those formerly with Scripps Hospice, don’t even notice a change in high-quality hospice care when they need it most.
Jill Mendlen is the Founder, president and CEO of San Diego-based LightBridge Hospice & Palliative Care and the vice president of LightBridge Medical Associates. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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