TEXAS CITY — A week after its board voted to cease operations, the county’s only nonprofit hospice group is looking to remain open. A consultant is scheduled to meet with Hospice Care Team’s board Thursday to see if there is a way for the organization to remain.
The decision doesn’t come without a cost. Several of the organization’s 52 staff members were laid off on Tuesday as Hospice Care Team restructured its operations, board Chairman Ronald Martin said.
The decision also means that a deal with Houston Hospice for the larger nonprofit hospice group to take over Hospice Care Team’s territory and care for its patients is off.
Martin said that an initial agreement reached with Houston Hospice last week fell through in the eleventh hour.
“We are told that Hospice Care Team is working with a consulting firm, and that Hospice Care Team will continue to provide hospice care,” Houston Hospice’s Vice President Cynthia Nordt said in an email Tuesday.
Hospice Care Team’s board president confirmed the chance to keep operations going was the main driver, but said as well that Houston Hospice wanted to change its agreement.
“In the draft agreement (Houston Hospice) agreed to take our patients and hire all our staff,” Martin said.
“When it came down to it, they decided they just wanted to keep eight of our staff members and for us to fire everyone else. That wasn’t acceptable.”
Martin said his board had planned on paying all staff what they were owed and any unused vacation. The group also would pay off all its outstanding bills, he said.
“Houston Hospice has been consistent with all of our statements to the board, management and employees from the beginning, stating that we would hire the majority of the clinical staff and the essential support staff,” Nordt said.
While plans are to remain open, Hospice Care Team will be a much smaller organization than it was before, Martin said. Staff cuts were made in all departments, he said.
Hospice Care Team’s board Vice President Lori Carnes said 14 staffers were let go on Tuesday in Galveston and Brazoria counties. Most of those were in the Galveston County office in Texas City, she said.
The group also will be looking to outsource some of its operations, including billing and information technology.
Hospice Care Team’s 34 Galveston County and 23 Brazoria County patients continue to receive care and the group will be accepting new patients, but there will be limits, Martin said.
The organization also will have to adjust how many non-pay and indigent patients it accepts.
Martin said while Hospice Care Team will still accept indigent patients, how many it takes in will be capped. He said the Hospice Care Team’s patient load was about 20 percent nonfunded.
That is more than twice the average of other hospice groups, including nonprofits.
He also said doctors who often send indigent patients to the hospice group will be asked to also send more patients who have insurance or Medicare.
Board members also were meeting with vendors and landlords to either negotiate new rates or possibly have fees waived as the group tries to restructure.
All of that doesn’t guarantee the organization will survive, Martin said.
“It really depends on what (the consultant) is able to tell us,” he said. “He thinks we have the ability to remain operational with a smaller budget; and with a few adjustments, we can make this work.”
If the board does decide to keep Hospice Care Team operational, Martin said there also would need to be a new fundraising effort to help the group maintain its mission.
Even if it does survive, Hospice Care Team will still be in a highly competitive market where the number of for-profit companies outweighs the number of nonprofits.
There was a time 20 years ago that 90 percent of all hospice groups were nonprofit, Mark B. Cohen, of the Florida-based Caring Foundations, said. Today, 70 percent of the hospice organizations are for-profit operations.
That competition could come from other nonprofits, although not likely, Martin said.
“We’re all part of (the Texas Non-Profit Hospice Alliance) and have agreed not to compete,” he said.
Nordt confirmed that.
“Our service boundaries have always overlapped somewhat,” she said. “We do not consider them a competitor.”