Hospice CEOs Share Key Lessons Learned During a Challenging 2021
Palliative care providers have seen many changes in 2021. The industry has continued to recover from a global pandemic while experiencing worsening pressure from the workforce. The market has been disrupted by massive mergers and acquisitions that have reshaped the competitive landscape, as well as regulatory enforcement reform and the start of Medicare Advantage hospice expansion, to name a few. some.
Hospice News asked provider leaders about the most important lessons learned in a tumultuous year that will inform their strategies and direction in 2022.
Many healthcare facilities have been forced to quickly adapt to the demands of COVID-19. Some have fared better than others, and in doing so, our teams have learned a lot about what it takes to lead and innovate in times of crisis and change. Although the past two years have been different from any we’ve had, we know things will continue to change in healthcare. The leadership skills that have been demanded of us over the past two years are those that will be demanded of us in the future.
We learned the importance of staying agile, allowing agility across roles and functions to work in the best interest of the collective. We’ve learned that we need to let our teams re-examine the linear processes we’ve put in place because the processes themselves may need to be rebuilt. We have learned that we must engage in transparency and vulnerability through continuous communication, because in the absence of truth, people will create their own.
And finally, we learned to implement structure and routine wherever possible, building predictability in the midst of chaos. What these lessons all share is their connection to the common mission and vision, ensuring that our employees are and feel cared for above all else.
— Joshua Proffitt, President and COO, LHC Group (NASDAQ: LHCG)
It is essential to continue to develop flexibility in how and where care is delivered. The pandemic has forced us to use tools and approaches that we have never used before in order to meet the needs of patients, families and referral sources and achieve greater efficiencies with the workforce than we had. Some of these changes have resulted in lower consumer satisfaction with services. Finding ways to increase the value and satisfaction of flexible services, such as virtual tours, will therefore now be an area of focus.
As the number and types of risky and value-driven providers and models of care increase, we continue to focus on developing disease-specific programs that can meet the unique needs of patient populations, such as those with heart failure, dementia, [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], and advanced cancer. Being able to provide reliable results for specific patient populations, rather than relying on a generalized approach, will also be essential for us as we focus on expanding our work with managed care entities and direct subcontracting.
Retaining our workforce will be a priority for the coming year. COVID has led to retirements and decisions not to return to work. Focusing on job satisfaction, employee engagement and flexible work arrangements will be part of our planning to ensure we can retain our staff as labor shortages persist in 2020.
We have learned that referral sources and patients/families increasingly want an “easy button” to choose to work with you. We focus on care navigation, where we provide solutions and help find the right services and patient needs on our end, rather than having our referral partners or families do the work of determining this on their side.
— Susan Ponder Stansel, CEO, Alivia Care
The #1 priority for us organizationally is the staffing component and continuing to ensure that we are nimble and doing whatever we need to to deal with the environment we find ourselves in. The two most important lessons learned for me in 2021 and 2020, the full pandemic, is first the importance of communication. It’s never been more important for leaders within an organization to have frequent communication across the business so everyone understands what’s going on, but also for a business of our size and our reach to have the flexibility to communicate with specific target audiences in a variety of ways. You can react dynamically to hourly changing situations across the country.
We’re not perfect in every way in this regard, but we had made great strides before the pandemic all aimed at solving this need due to natural disasters in our portfolio, hurricane season passing through Florida, wildfires of forest occurring in California. We had made a lot of investments to say that we wanted to be able to dynamically send messages, advice, security protocols back and forth to all our employees. We have used all of these tools throughout the pandemic. This includes communicating and collaborating with our healthcare partners who are going through the exact same dynamic, and we need to understand what is going on inside their institutions so that we can be stewards and good partners.
I think the second element is the importance of the goal. It’s never been more important not to assume that everyone on your team is always aware and remembered why they are in your organization and why we work together collaboratively. We must be humble, transparent, sincere with everyone and communicate openly to clearly show the way forward. I think organizations that do this come out of the pandemic with an even more dedicated workforce because they see what the company has done to help them.
— Nick Westfall, CEO, VITAS Healthcare, a subsidiary of Chemed (NYSE: CHEM)
The word “agile” comes to mind. You better be nimble in your approach. In terms of mergers and acquisitions, we previously talked about being opportunistic, looking for opportunities to create opportunities to invest in companies that enhance our business, that are aligned with our business, and that really reflect who we are targeting and where we are targeting. It eventually has to fit into the overall growth approach, or it just doesn’t make much sense to burn a lot of calories on it.
As we move into the evolution of the payer landscape, there will be a value-based component. I just want to go back to that density strategy. As we began to work further upstream, engaging with payers across South Carolina in Georgia, the ability counts to put a card on the table and say we serve every county in that state. It resonates when you start thinking about how you create value in these potential relationships and partnerships. We see this on the payer side, as well as hospital systems. They are starting to be much more aware of the footprint capabilities and components of what you are offering.
— Troy Yarborough, CEO, Agape Care (speaking at the Hospice News GROWTH Summit)
We have certainly seen a significant shift from senior housing. The census will be done more at home. In this approach, we began to use more nurse practitioners to provide additional services and different additional care to our patients that, quite honestly, we had never thought of.
To be able to have a nurse practitioner who can have that dialogue with the patient, the family, the primary caregiver, in a more cohesive way — once a week or every two weeks instead of once every 60 or 90 days — set a different level of expectation, but also a different level of opportunity for us to really focus on a patient’s progression through palliative care delivery.
— Heath Bartness, CEO, St. Croix Hospice (speaking at the Hospice News GROWTH Summit)
I think we have muscles that we can flex in relation to the pandemic, the policies, the protocols, the delivery of care, the alternative methodologies, that we now have at our fingertips. Even now, in this unique phase of Omicron, we are taking full advantage of these playbooks. There has been a ton of work to adapt and modify the delivery of care in the safest and most qualitative way possible and to manage these two objectives. The good news is that there’s the infrastructure, the policies, the protocols, and some kind of muscle memory to do it.
We continued to advocate for vaccination. So if boosters become the new definition of vaccination, we will continue to lead our internal efforts and our playbook for that as well.
With regard to staffing, we have an ongoing campaign to improve the work/life balance and workload of our staff, trying to do everything we can to create efficiency, increase job satisfaction and streamline. This is part of the overall goal of our merger, which is to be able to leverage scale as well as best practices. It’s something we focused on a lot. By doing so, you eliminate the noise that bothers those closest to patients, families, and referral partners, as well as reduce emotional stress, which we believe is a major contributor to patient burnout and patient dissatisfaction. staff.
— Todd Stern, Executive Vice President and CEO of Hospice, AccentCare
Partnerships matter. What we continue to strengthen in the marketplace is developing strong partnerships with your referral sources. The joint ventures we have are the greatest source of growth and stability for the company.
Mission matters. Having a mission-driven organization that helps you through the toughest times is critically important at every level. There are ups and downs that happen, but if you can keep people focused on the mission, that’s extremely important.
Being a flexible organization is important. We’ve learned to pivot through the pandemic, and that comes through a different set of muscles, how we spend time together, how we prioritize, or how we review data. We’re constantly looking at how we react and get ahead of the things we see happening, and I think those are three things that will stick with us.
—Steve Rodgers, CEO, Accent Care