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Inside Bulloch Business: Hospice needs your help
For profits are hurting non-profit Ogeechee Area Hospice
Ogeechee Area Hospice
The Ogeechee Area Hospice in-patient facility opened on the site of the old Bulloch Memorial Hospital in 2005.

Few non-profit organizations in our community have positively impacted our community as much as Ogeechee Area Hospice.  

A majority of you reading this probably has had first-hand experience with the amazing work of Ogeechee Area Hospice provides through the loss of a loved one. If you have not, then you certainly know someone whose family has been touched by their compassionate care during the end stages of life. 

Since founded by Nancy Bryant more than two decades ago as this regions first hospice, literally thousands of families, including mine, have been touched deeply by this service.

“I remember the challenge we had communicating and educating the community about what a hospice was in the early days,” said Bryant, founder and Interim CEO. “Now it seems that almost daily we admit a patient to our acute care facility from a for profit hospice competing with Ogeechee Area Hospice in the seven counties we serve. Never have we experienced a more competitive or challenging time in the hospice industry or at Ogeechee Area Hospice”.

Hospices are funded on a “per day of care” funding model from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies. This averages around $150 per day. The longer a patient is under the care of hospice, the more revenue is generated to offset expenses.

Ogeechee Area Hospice was founded as an in-home service so their clients could experience end-of-life care that allowed them to die at home as comfortably as possible. After discovering that after caring for their patients for months that in the last few days of life, many were transported to the hospital and died there Bryant wanted to offer a more peaceful and welcoming environment for the more acute patients and their families to die with dignity. So, the idea of an acute in-patient facility was born.  

Opening in 2005

In 2005, a 12-bed acute care facility was opened on land donated by Bulloch County on the former Bulloch Memorial Hospital site. In 2013, the Ogeechee Area Hospice expanded the in-patient facility to add an additional 13 residential hospice care beds. The total project cost nearly $7 million, of which about $3 million was contributed from individuals and families living in the communities they serve.

Opening the inpatient facility was one of their proudest moments, seeing our community showing it’s appreciation through extraordinary financial support as a small token of gratitude for their service to our families.  

However, they never imagined that this incredible facility and service to our community would affect them negatively financially, however.

“There are only four in-patient hospice facilities below Atlanta, Bryant said. “Two in Macon, one in Vidalia and ours in Statesboro, all of which are operated by non-profits. No for profit hospice operates in-patient facilities for acute care because of the high operating costs and end of life care costs are the most expensive. The lifeline to our operations is still assisting our clients with in-home hospice care as early as possible. Because of the public misunderstanding that the in-patient facility is now our primary focus, patients have been lured to other “for profit” hospices for their long-term hospice care and then transferred to us for the last few days of life.”

Nancy Bryant returns

Bryant returned from retirement as interim CEO of Ogeechee Area Hospice after Linda Upchurch accepted the director of nursing positon at East Georgia State College. The board has put the search for a permanent director on hold for now, giving Bryant, the board of directors and the staff time to stabilize the operations and project a path forward.  

Bryant believes that a misunderstanding by the communities in which they serve as to how they are funded primarily has caused Hospice’s current financial struggles. Citizens do not understand that if they are transferred in only for the final days of care, Ogeechee Area Hopsice only receives three days of funding for care verses weeks or months of daily funding for in-home care.  

The in-home care is what subsidizes the inpatient facility. In many cases, clients simply choose the hospice agency that is the most convenient for them at the time of their need and do not understand they have options for hospice care.

On the day of my interview with Bryant, of the patients under their care, many were transferred in by “for profit” hospices for the final days of life. In fact, in the last 30 days, Ogeechee Area Hospice has accepted acute patients from 19 “for profit” hospices as far away as Augusta and Savannah because there are no other facilities like Ogeechee Area Hospice serving their communities.

If this trend continues, it will be very difficult for Ogeechee Area Hospice to continue serving our community’s needs with their current model. In a worst-case scenario, if Ogeechee Area Hospice ceased operations it is very unlikely that a “for profit” hospice would operate the in-patient facility.

“We are fortunate to have some of the most dedicated, compassionate employees,” Bryant said. “Together, we share a desire to provide the best hospice care available. This, combined with hundreds of wonderful volunteers, a strong board of directors and a community that has overwhelmingly supported us, gives me hope that by working together brighter days will be in our future.”

Keeping Ogeechee Area Hospice viable

It takes nearly $500,000 per month to meet the expenses generated by operating the in-patient and in-home care by Ogeechee Area Hospice.  

You can help in two ways to get Ogeechee Area Hospice back on solid ground financially. First, as a non-profit, they can accept direct tax deductible contributions to help sustain operations.  Second, make sure your family and friends are aware of the importance of selecting Ogeechee Area Hospice as your hospice of choice for in-home care – not just acute end-of-life care.  

We are a community that rises to the occasion whenever a need like this is communicated. I know many of you will step up in unimaginable ways to help. This is the encouragement and support Bryant and her team at Ogeechee Area Hospice not only deserve but need at this critical crossroads.

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