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Hospice veteran ready to steer growing program in Lancaster

Hospice of Lancaster
County serves nearly 450
people each day, employs 350 staff members and counts on more than 1,000
volunteers.

Hospice of Lancaster
County
serves nearly 450
people each day, employs 350 staff members and counts on more than 1,000
volunteers.

But hospice care hasn’t always been part of the medical
landscape.

It was an emerging concept when Cathy Stauffer was earning
her master’s of public health degree at Temple University in the late 1970s.

“I thought hospice was the neatest concept and was hoping it
would move further,” the Philadelphia-area native said. “Nobody really knew how
it was going to go, whether it was going to be successful, whether the
government was going to look at it as something that was beneficial.”

Stauffer subsequently spent 16 years in the field, and
recently took the helm at East Hempfield Township-based Hospice of Lancaster
County.

The new chief executive officer and president said she hopes
to shepherd the nonprofit through its ongoing expansion, keep it competitive
with area hospices and address the financial challenges faced by hospices
nationwide.

“I have a lot of passion for hospice,” Stauffer said. “I
experienced at a very early age some losses in my life, and so I know what it’s
like to go through loss. … It’s a huge learning experience for anybody who goes
through it. You need support, and that’s what hospice does. It gives families
hope, support and comfort.”

Stauffer is working with Hospice of Lancaster County staff
members on a new strategic plan that will determine the organization’s path for
the next three years.

There are some initiatives Stauffer said she knows will be
addressed in the plan, including that the aging populations of Lancaster County and of the nation as a whole have
increased demand for hospice services. As an example, during most of the past
few years Hospice of Lancaster County’s 12-bed inpatient unit at the Essa Flory
Hospice Center
was full.

So in October, Hospice opened a new center in Mount Joy,
with 16 beds and space for the PATHways
Center for Grief &
Loss
. PATHways offers support programs for the entire community, not just for
the relatives of Hospice of Lancaster County patients.

And there’s room to grow. By design, one wing of the
facility has not been opened yet and only about 1 acre of the 14 acre property
has been built. 

One service that might see expansion at Mount Joy,
or as an outpatient service, is palliative care, Stauffer said.

The goal of palliative care is to treat symptoms and reduce
pain stemming from a serious illness. It is a separate specialty and one in
which all of Hospice of Lancaster County’s physicians are certified, Stauffer
said. 

Hospice of Lancaster
County staff members also
plan to discuss expanding the organization’s geographic reach beyond the
county’s borders, she said.

But on the heels of all of this expansion have come federal
funding cuts for hospice programs.

“I think the biggest challenge (in running Hospice of
Lancaster County) is future reimbursement,” Stauffer said.

The hospice took a $250,000 cut in Medicare reimbursement
funding for 2009, she said. It was part of
$2.3 billion of federal reimbursement cuts to hospices nationwide.

A provision of the federal economic-stimulus package would
restore that funding for one year, but provide no relief beyond that.

Medicare funding is vital to Hospice of Lancaster County
because 80 percent of its patients receive Medicare.

Exacerbating the cuts is that the amount of uncompensated
care at the hospice jumped 23 percent from 2007 to 2008, Stauffer said.

The federal Medicare Payment Advisory Commission is
reviewing the hospice funding structure nationwide, and is expected to release
its recommendations this year.

Stauffer said that means her organization must continue
working to convince the people and agencies who hold the purse strings that
Hospice of Lancaster County is worth funding.

“Our big challenge is to collect data so that we can show
the fiscal intermediary that what you’re providing us with is really saving you
a lot of money in the long run because people don’t have to go to the
hospital,” Stauffer said.

These are the same battles hospices always have had to
fight, Stauffer said – especially convincing the government that the care
hospice specialists provide is not a duplication of services at nursing homes
or hospitals.

Stauffer said her organization is adapting to funding
changes.

“The last thing I want to do is downsize any staff,” she
said. “We’re looking at some processes and ways to strengthen our internal
operations to balance cost.”

She said she is confident she will be able to lead Hospice
of Lancaster County through any changes or reductions in its funding formula.

“My job is to bring the knowledge I have of working with
many other different hospice programs and working with the exceptional staff
here and just carrying the mission forward in the future and financially
sustaining what the organization has built so we’re there for the community, so
we can continue to be there,” Stauffer said.

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