PeaceHealth Southwest drops appeal against hospice center




PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center has given up its challenge of Community Home Health & Hospice’s plan to build a second inpatient hospice center in Clark County.

Hospital officials said they decided their relationship with CHHH was more important than continuing their opposition, which was based on concerns about overcapacity.

“This doesn’t erase the concern we have that there may be overcapacity,” said Joe Kortum, president and chief executive officer of PeaceHealth Southwest. “Across the U.S., it has been difficult to make hospice operations work financially. Most are highly dependent on philanthropic support of the community to survive.”

PeaceHealth Southwest owns the county’s only existing inpatient hospice center — the Ray Hickey House — near downtown Vancouver. It regularly runs under capacity, as many terminally ill people elect to die at home.

The hospital’s board of directors voted Tuesday to drop the appeal at the request of CHHH and after multiple discussions between the two organizations over the summer.

“This is great news for Clark County residents,” responded CHHH Board President Dan Spjut in a statement. “We thank our longtime friends at (PeaceHealth Southwest) and their civic-minded board for withdrawing the appeal so the common good can be served.”

Filed in May, PeaceHealth Southwest’s appeal challenged a state Department of Health decision to approve construction of the second hospice center based on Medicare claims. The claims indicated there are not enough patients in the county who qualify for inpatient care to keep two hospice centers financially afloat.

“I think we are taking a leap of faith here,” Kortum said, explaining the board’s change of heart. “We’re trusting in the goodwill of the two organizations coming up with a solution to provide adequate capacity for hospice care and to hopefully, continue to be viable. That’s a pretty tricky thing to pull off.”

CHHH officials have insisted PeaceHealth Southwest’s concerns are unwarranted. Growth in the senior population will boost demand for inpatient hospice services, said Marykay Morelli, CHHH community relations director. The county’s senior population is expected to double by 2025 as the result of aging baby boomers. CHHH also has seen its client base increase over time, CHHH officials have said.

“We do believe there is need for a second hospice center,” Morelli said.

CHHH already operates an inpatient hospice center in Longview. The second center, earmarked for Northeast 136th Circle in Salmon Creek, will serve Clark County clients and employees.

The $10 million project includes a 42,000-square-foot center to house existing community-based services and 10 hospice beds, an outdoor memorial garden and a large conference space available for community use.

CHHH is waiting for permits from Clark County before proceeding with construction. CHHH officials hope to start construction by spring 2013. The project will take about 13 months to complete.