HopeWest pivoted by seeing writing on wall

Christy Whitney, the president and CEO of HopeWest and the nonprofit hospice agency’s board of directors have “a mission and a passion as a social-reform agency,” but they’re also responsible for a $37 million business with a sizable economic impact on the Western Slope.

After a quarter-century of providing compassionate care to the gravely ill and dying, HopeWest had hit a wall.

With 95-percent market penetration, the organization faced a daunting future. In business terms, it had to decide whether to grow — expand services to a bigger market — or scale back, eliminate overhead and be just a “plain vanilla” hospice.

Confronting this “next curve,” the board had to consider several factors. HopeWest operates primarily on a flat reimbursement from the federal government. Rates haven’t changed in a decade, but HopeWest’s costs — drug prices, salaries, utilities — keep rising. Only 7 percent of HopeWest’s $37 million budget comes from philanthropy or supporting retail businesses.

The choices before the board were to merge with or sell to a bigger organization — and give up its status as an independent, community-owned agency — pare down or find a new way to increase business.

Thankfully, the board opted to stay independent, diversify and build out by becoming a certified PACE provider. PACE stands for Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, which provides comprehensive medical and social services to certain frail, community-dwelling elderly individuals, most of whom are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

The idea is that keeping the elderly in their own homes and providing support services is cheaper than paying for them to be in a nursing home. The Sentinel’s Gary Harmon described the breadth of the program in a story in Saturday’s paper.

Because PACE is such a capital-intensive endeavor — requiring transportation, an adult day health center, a primary care senior clinic and a physical therapy suite, among other things —  the federal government protects providers from competition. If HopeWest hadn’t secured a PACE certification, it’s a sure bet that a for-profit business would have.

Since HopeWest is making a $19 million investment in the community to get a PACE facility up and running, the board wondered, why not open it up to the public? So, PACE will merely be a category of membership in HopeWest’s CLUB (Center for Living Ur Best). All of the assets — all of the capital investment required for PACE — will be leveraged by expanding the market for those services to people who can sign up on a monthly basis for various levels.

This is great news on so many levels. It will create 200 good-paying jobs, expands HopeWest’s reach, provide a payment stream for “gap” clients HopeWest is already serving and help the community deal with the coming “silver tsunami” by beefing up the back end of the community’s cradle-to-grave continuum of care.

It just the latest example of how thoughtful, community-minded leadership can meet our biggest challenges. We can help by supporting HopeWest’s fund-raising efforts when they get off the ground this fall.


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