OTSEGO COUNTY CHAMBER
Hospice Successor Prepares
Long-Term Care For Future
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
The small community hospital was about to be merged into the much larger Mary Fletcher Hospital in adjacent Burlington, and there would only a single high-level job for the Fanny Allen’s half-dozen top executives.
Ayres, now CEO & vice president at Helios Care, the former Catskill Area Hospice & Palliative Care, was the youngest applicant. He got the job of vice president/facilities services, overseeing the merger of the two hospitals into the Fletcher Allen Medical Center.
The other applicants, he said in a recent interview at Helios consolidated headquarter on the River Street Extension, talked about their experience and credentials. “I had a plan,” Ayres said. “I had a complete binder – the organization structure, the first 90 days.”
His latest plan – the concept, new name and new logo for Catskill Hospice – was unveiled by the Helios board Tuesday, Oct. 8, before 100 people at a reception at the Southside Quality Inn.
That, plus a nomination by a family member whose father had benefit from Helios new approach – don’t take the patient to the hospital; bring quality care to the patient’s home – will be recognized at the Otsego County Chamber’s Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Breakthrough Business of the Year at the annual Small Business Banquet Thursday, Nov. 21, at The Otesaga.
“Instead of end of life, Helios is about maintaining quality of life,” said chamber President Barbara Ann Heegan. “We have a pioneer right here in our neighborhood, which I think is fantastic.”
Helios “keeps people in their homes longer,” she continued. “They have access to medical services. It keeps them out of emergency rooms. It helps with overall cost – for the patients themselves as well as the organization.”
Helios board chairman Connie Jastremski, retired Bassett chief nursing officer and vice president/patient care services, said she and other board members were aware the term “hospice” had become a barrier to care.
“It isn’t really the end of life,” she said, noting patients were typically entering hospice with only 4-5 days to live. “It’s making your life better at the end.”
Plus, “Catskill” in the name didn’t accurately depict the service area, which includes the Cooperstown area, which is not in the Catskills.
A popular term in renamed hospices is “comfort care,” but the local board discovered it’s trademarked; the rights would have been expensive to buy.
“’Helios Care,’ I think, struck us at first as ‘what?’” Jastremski said.
“Hearing the back story” – reflected in the new logo – “is important,” she said. “Helios, the god of sun, bringing warmth and bright light into your patients’ lifes. Around the sun are hearts, the people who are caring for them, for the love, caring and compassionate dignity we provide.”
Now, she said, it’s her mission to get doctors to understand the new emphasis, which has required adding personnel to increase the palliative care piece.
Jastremski’s last job at Bassett was in the Pain & Palliative Care Unit, “holding people’s hands and talking to them about relieving their symptoms.” That’s the Helios goal, to treat patients early and at home, with either nurses or telemedicine.
“If it is end of life,” she said, “we’re already there.”
Since Ayres arrived back in the Otsego-Delaware region in November 2016, change had been systematic. (See box, this page)
If the new model works for patients, it also works for hospitals, which federal reimbursement rates are now punishing if a patient isn’t fully treated and has to return two or three times, Jastremski said.
“Patients who readmit most frequently come to the emergency room with shortness of breath, heart problems, dementia,” she continued. “If you can call someone on a 24-hour hotline, we can send a nurse out to see you, or do it by telemedicine.”
A year-long pilot project between then-Catskill Area Hospice and Leatherstocking Collaborative Health Partners, a Bassett affiliate, showed an 80 percent dip in acute-care treatment and a 35 percent cost savings.
“This is saving hospitals money,” she said. “Nothing is worse than having hospitals have year after year of unprofitable years.”