Health Department approves contested plan for new hospice center

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

Updated: April 26, 2012, 5:35 PM

 

The state Department of Health has approved Community Home Health & Hospice’s controversial plan to build a 10-bed hospice center in Salmon Creek.

The plan was contested by PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, owner of Clark County’s only existing inpatient hospice center, Ray Hickey Hospice House near downtown Vancouver. The decision Monday indicates the health department doesn’t agree with PeaceHealth’s claim that there aren’t enough patients needing institutional palliative care to keep two Clark County hospice centers financially afloat.

“We were pleased because the department agreed with so much we had been saying …,” said Greg Pang, CHHH chief executive officer. “If we need more beds, we will have to apply again down the road.”

The approval is limited to the first phase of CHHH’s plan to build 10 beds by 2013 at 3100 N.E. 136th Circle. A second phase to build space for five additional beds in 2016 was denied because the health department determined that would cause occupancy to fall below 65 percent. State law requires hospice centers to maintain at least 65 percent occupancy.

“It was a bit of a disappointing announcement for us,” said Marc Berg, PeaceHealth’s director of home care and hospice. “Whether they approved 10 or 15 beds, the end result is the same. It still creates an oversupply. We believe it puts inpatient hospice care in jeopardy countywide.”

Berg said PeaceHealth officials will consider whether to appeal the decision. They have 28 days to appeal.

He said the health department disregarded data on CHHH’s Medicare claims and costs (submitted by PeaceHealth in its objection) that he said showed CHHH doesn’t have enough potential patients to meet state requirements. Instead, it only considered inflated projections by CHHH, Berg said.

Karen Nidermayer, Department of Health certificate of need analyst, said the CHHH project was held to the same standards and calculation methods as the other 11 hospice centers in the state, including two run by PeaceHealth.

Nidermayer said she did consider the Medicare data in her recommendation to grant a certificate of need to CHHH’s project.

“I did not find it a convincing rationale to deny the project or change our review process of this hospice care center project from that of other hospice care centers,” Nidermayer said.

CHHH already operates a hospice center in Longview and wanted to provide office and bed space for its Clark County employees and patients, respectively.

The hospice center will cost about $2.1 million to build. Construction is slated to begin in the summer, Pang said.

A public hearing on the project held Feb. 21 by the Department of Health drew about 100 people, mostly CHHH and PeaceHealth employees, and lasted about four hours.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Trends;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.