Hospice Secures Its Role as Health Care Needs Rise

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The volatile health care environment has challenged health-related community nonprofits to take a hard look at their business side, set mission-focused priorities, adapt organizations and systems for financial sustainability and where possible, diversify services to meet new expectations. Hospice care is no exception. Unlike their origins in the U.S. in the mid-1970s, hospices today offer a broad menu of support services for both non-terminal and end-of-life patients, yet must thrive in a more competitive environment responsive to the growing aging population.

Two years ago, Benton Hospice Service in Oregon’s Mid-Willamette Valley engaged its board, staff and volunteers in strategic thinking to shape its services, market position and financial sustainability – and the results have brought new life and renewed focus. Strategic planning led to solid market research, a new name, expanded partnerships, plans for a new building – and a more secure financial foundation. “We developed a roadmap that gave clear direction about what we needed to do,” said Kelly Beard, executive director of what is now Lumina Hospice & Palliative Care in Corvallis, Oregon.

The nonprofit’s revised mission statement, long-term vision and core principles captured the essence of this new “story”:

Mission: To provide compassion, comfort and support through your end-of-life experience

Vision: To help you live out the rest of your life, on your own terms, among people who care

Core Principles

  • Focus on quality of life and to ease suffering
  • Promote dignity
  • Respect choices
  • Honor the grieving process
  • Provide end-of-life resources and education as the recognized regional source for the continuum of end-of-life services

First Step: Market Positioning

Market research findings were clear – the name, “Benton Hospice Service” had little market recognition. “We’d been paralyzed on this topic for 20 years because we did not have good data,” Beard said. The new name was influenced by a memorable line from Desmond Tutu: “Hope is knowing that there is light among all the darkness.”

The strategic plan also set a series of “performance goals,” 5-year planning outcomes and commitments to its regional constituencies. For example, one performance goal stated enhanced financial sustainability by increasing average daily “census” by 35% by 2021. Already that number is at 30%.

Additional Steps: New Services and Partnerships

The hospice was successful in obtaining a large grant to expand into palliative care services, which improve the quality of life and comfort, such as pain management, when patients are facing serious illness, complicated medical decisions and curative treatments. It hired a fulltime physician specializing in gerontology. Staff and volunteers devote more time to building referral relationships across the community and other new contracts facilitate more high-demand services. The hospice is developing collaborative partnerships with other health care organizations to improve administrative efficiency, reduce hospital stays and build out a continuum of services. An anticipated new building promises with more freeway access and visibility. Other strategic objectives underway include an adult foster home and a music therapy program.

Deeply embedded in its regional community through a network of health and social service professionals available 24 hours a day, Lumina contributes more than hospice care. As a community resource, it offers transition assistance for those with serious illness but not eligible for hospice, end-of-life education, grief and caregiver support groups. Yet constant changes in Medicare rates and insurance plan require constant financial vigilance and continued diversification of funding sources. Through its strategic planning exercise, however, the organization is more confident it can ensure its longstanding promise to its community – “You are not alone.”