The Real Threat to the Future of Hospice

 In Preparing for the Future

What the NPR story tells us about the state of the hospice brand.

An NPR article making the rounds on social media calls into question how supportive hospice care really is for family caregivers. Nonprofit providers have been quick to point out that all the organizations mentioned in the article are for-profit. But, that distinction means absolutely nothing to patients and families. In fact, in the 18 years we’ve been doing research on what matters to family caregivers, nonprofit status is consistently at the bottom of the list. Patients and families care about how you serve their needs, nothing else really matters. And, it’s this critical “how” where tax status can appear, negatively hurting the reputation of hospice and bringing greater regulatory scrutiny.

In the for-profit space, the business acumen can be tremendous. Performance is often stable, quality efforts are increasingly sophisticated and innovation is happening. But, in care delivery, the hospice mission can get lost in tactical communication about medical care or eclipsed by pressure to realize management metrics. Patients and families feel this as poor communication, burnout, clock punching, poor responsiveness and unclear expectations about what care really includes.

Nonprofit organizations often deliver in mission-centered care that patients and families love, but fall short in progressive business practices. Financial management, HR practices, communications and measurement approaches may not evolve. Marketing can be wholly dependent on a few key personal relationships. The name on the door may not really reflect what you do anymore. And, turnover can get out of balance when one or two culture-defining people leave.

Collectively, these behaviors negatively impact the long-term viability of the hospice care model. Poor communication draws the eye of regulators, leading to more oversight and lower reimbursements. Stagnant business practices threaten viability, choice and mission.

Ignoring articles like the one on NPR (or the New York Times or Washington Post), blaming the other guy or relying solely on our national and state associations to carry the water … those are no longer viable options. The future of hospice care is on the line. We’ve all got some work to do to make sure the hospice care model remains the gold standard in healthcare. We all own a part of the brand that is “hospice.”

So, what are you going to do about it?

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