PeaceHealth ends palliative care program

Courtesy photo

May 19, 2023 — PeaceHealth made the decision to end its Palliative Care program last month with the last day set for May 26. The program and its workers were notified of their termination on April 26. Volunteers and locals have voiced outrage as it’s unclear whether or not the 155 palliative care patients will continue receiving the same amount of care and assistance. 

The Palliative Care program began in 2017 under Dr. Stephen Kerner, the current medical director at Regency Care Center. Donna Becker, medical social worker, has been a part of the program since its inception, eventually serving as program coordinator and then supervisor. 

“At the volunteer appreciation luncheon, Donna stood at the front and told us they’d all been fired the day before and the program was ending,” recounts Rebecca Goehring, a long-time volunteer with the Palliative Care program.

Becker, like her patients and the community, was caught off guard by the news.

“I was surprised,” said Becker. “I honestly was not expecting that the entire program would close.”

She is not sure what her next move will be.

“I plan on taking some time before I decide on next steps,” Becker states about her future plans. 

PeaceHealth has made a public announcement about these recent changes. 

“[We’re] actively responding to the significant challenges faced by healthcare organizations across the U.S. Unfortunately, many of the palliative care services we believe in are not fully reimbursed and changes in our services were necessary,” the statement says. 

Under the current Palliative Care program, insurance reimbursement covered approximately 15-20% of costs, according to Amanda Power, a PeaceHealth representative. In effect, the program was running at a significant loss to the hospital and required restructuring to continue providing services.

The new model of care includes moving two of the current palliative care doctors (one of whom is Dr. Kerner) to Advanced Primary Care and offering in-home visits.

“We will continue to support patients with complex care needs using this new model, coupled with support from our home health and hospice teams. We are working to minimize the impacts for patients and will support them through this transition,” the statement from PeaceHealth continues.

Power has confirmed PeaceHealth is actively working on assigning current palliative care patients new primary care doctors by the May 26 transition date. 

PeaceHealth has also confirmed that the new primary care program will use the same providers most patients already know and they will be available at the same phone number. Staff are working to determine which patients will benefit from home health services and placing appropriate referrals. They are also coordinating with volunteers to assess how to support this new home-based primary care model.

A local program called the Soup Brigade, operating under the Good Deed Project, also helps serve the palliative care community. Cindy Wobbe, the founder of the program, began delivering meals to those in need since the beginning of COVID. Since its inception, the Soup Brigade has served over 25,000 bowls of soup. 

Wobbe’s program serves 38 to 50 people at any given time and she foresees the demand to increase dramatically with the ending of the Palliative Care program.

“This decision could end in a crisis for Florence.,” said Wobbe. “We’re working hard to fill in the gaps that will undoubtedly emerge.”

Currently, Wobbe is working with health professionals and Florence community members to find ways to lessen the impact on the patients. 

If you’d like to donate to or volunteer for this cause, you can reach Wobbe at [email protected].