Guest column: Fixing limited availability of hospital and nursing home options

Peter Guy
Hospice of the Valley
Peter Guy.

A hospice needs a home of its own. What does a home for Hospice have to do with a subdivision application?

First, a brief history of Hospice of the Valley is in order. In 2008, the regional hospice of the Colorado Rivers and Roaring Fork Valleys closed its doors leaving no hospice care available in our area. It was Markey Butler who acted to fill the vacancy with the founding of Hospice of the Valley. Not long after, we acted on the opportunity to join Vail Home Health to create our long-time identity, HomeCare and Hospice of the Valley.

The agency continued to grow through the years, as did our older demographic. The scattered service of over 6,000 square miles, covering the residents of Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin, and portions of Gunnison counties became problematic. Given the geography, and hiring and retention issues, the ability to continue to provide the compassionate and dignified care we were committed to for our patients was becoming unsustainable. Unfortunately, as the operation continued to increase in both scope and cost, the reimbursement for these programs decreased. During a Board and Staff retreat in the fall of 2021, after an examination of the facts at hand, it was clear that the current business model was unsustainable. Even worse was the realization that the HomeCare portion of the model had been draining resources from the hospice portion of the organization, which we all agreed was our primary mission. In a subsequent Board meeting, we slowly moved away from the Home Care line of business.

During the COVID pandemic, most patients were able to remain home with family and caregivers and received the support of Home Care and Hospice of the Valley. However, there was also an increased demand for support for patients with severe symptom management needs requiring care in hospitals and nursing homes. Unfortunately, because of COVID restrictions, many patients passed away in isolation. In addition, post-pandemic caregiver burnout, combined with limited facility staff, made it more difficult for patients to access general inpatient hospice care that allows families to take a well-deserved break from their demanding routines. The limited availability of hospital and nursing home options continues to make this respite care a worsening problem.

All of this points to the obvious solution of a free-standing Hospice House to complete our continuum of dignified, compassionate, end-of-life care for our community.

We have been searching for six years to find an appropriate location and began discussions with Robert Macgregor several years ago. He has graciously provided a site within his proposed Flying M Ranch PUD subdivision, well under market value. The PUD itself is approximately 34 acres, 5 ½ miles south of Glenwood Springs near Riverside School, along the Roaring Fork River across from Westbank. It provides a mix of housing aimed at families with moderate income.

The proposal passed the Garfield County Planning Commission by a 7 to 1 margin and will be presented to the County Commissioners on Oct. 2.

In conclusion, we are the only licensed and certified, non-profit, community-based agency providing hospice services from Vail Pass to Parachute and up to Aspen while continuing to receive a 10/10 rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services. We are proud to offer unparalleled personal care, expert symptom, and pain management, along with comprehensive emotional, spiritual, and bereavement support.

Peter Guy is the board chair Hospice of the Valley.

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