News of Otsego County

Catskill Area Hospice

As Helios, Catskill Hospice To Match Bassett Footprint



As Helios, Catskill Hospice

To Match Bassett Footprint

Catskill Area Hospice officially became Helios Care Tuesday, Oct. 8, as the board of directors unveiled the new name and logo. From left are Reginald Knight, Connie Jastremski (board chair), CEO Dan Ayres, Jeffrey Woeppel, Linda Evanczyk, the organization’s founder; Dr. Yoshiro Matsuo
and John Pontius. (Jennifer Hill/

By JENNIFER HILL • Special to

ONEONTA – Changing Catskills Area Hospice & Palliative Care to Helios is about opening up a conversation.

“We found that the word ‘hospice’ was a barrier to conversation,” said CEO Dan Ayres. “When patients hear ‘hospice,’ they think they’re in their last days, not last month or year.  They don’t want to have the conversation.

“Now, we’re more likely to have a conversation, which means we can help the person get care early on.”

The rechristened Helios board unveiled the new name and logo at a Tuesday, Oct. 8 ceremony at Foothills attended by over 100 people, including Dr. Yoshiro Matsuo, the Oneonta oncologist credited with founding the local hospice.

The logo, a sunflower and a heliotrope, signified the care and guidance Helios intends to give patients on their “most difficult journey in life.”

The unveiling was for much more than name and logo, Ayres said in an interview the morning of the unveiling.

“The point is,” he said, “we are now positioning ourselves to provide more service than just hospice care that will help the patient stay healthier longer and at home.  And there will be a value to the system to pay us to do that.”

Helios’ plan is to expand Catskill Hospice from the three counties it covers now to the eight counties in the Bassett Network’s footprint.

It has negotiated a first-time agreements with Excellus/Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Utica to cover in-home care for an extended period, reducing patients’ more expensive visits to Primary Care, and much more expensive final care in Bassett’s ICUs.

Additionally, in 2021, Medicare is going to start paying for the capacity Helios is developing, Ayres said.

Expanding its potential patient base from 140,000 people in the three counties to 600,000 in eight counties will further reduce Helios’ costs, particularly overhead – administration, HR, tech and other centralized services.

Helios’ journey to the renaming ceremony began in 2017 when Ayres returned from West Virginia for his current job and observed a grim reality:  The hospice care industry was in steep decline, especially in New York State.

“Seventy percent of the state’s hospices were losing money and we are one of them,” Ayres said.  “We couldn’t keep doing the same thing the same way and expect to survive.”

The state ranked 49th in the country for hospice utilization, had the highest cost for Medicare, and had more people dying in ICUs than in any other state.

“At the same time, there is a tremendous demand for both hospice and palliative care here.  Sixty percent of the state population has chronic diseases and 40 percent have two or more of them,” Ayres said.   “And 23 percent of the population is 65 and older and enrolled in Medicare and Delaware is the fastest aging county in the state.”

But the average length of a hospice stay was 17 days.

So Catskill Hospice partnered with the Leatherstocking Collaborative Health Partners, a Bassett affiliate, on a year-long study giving 70 patients the service Helios intends to provide from here on out.

The results were astonishing, Ayres said.

“We had multiple health professionals do multiple acute care visits of the patients for a year and were able to reduce their acute-care utilization by 80 percent,” he  said.  “And we saw costs for their care – the most expensive type of care – go down 35 percent.”

The study ended in June, and the results has cause the new Helios to implement this new care and business model.

His staff, many of them new hires, go to patients’ homes to care for them, any day of the week instead of a Monday-Friday model.

Our nurses get great satisfaction in engaging one-on-one with patients and helping them in the most difficult times of their lives,” he said.  “They are computer literate and engaged in innovation – the right people at the right time.”

The change was accompanied by a big reduction in overhead.  Helios now has one office, on the River Street Extension, instead of six.  And health insurers are paying Helios to care for patients because treating patients at home means fewer hospital visits, the most expensive component of healthcare.

“We can monitor patients’ health at home better than if they rely on a hospital for care,” said Ayres.  “We help them take their medicine on time and check their blood pressure to see if they have hypertension, which can save a trip to the emergency room.”

Helios staff will also spot problems a hospital exam might not catch, such as food insecurity or burning wood to heat their homes.

“We can now give patients better care and a more seamless transition of care,” said Ayres.

Remembering Lives Lived And Lost

At Hospice Tree Lighting,

Loved Ones Remembered

Family and friends of those who have passed away gathered at Catskill Area Hospice in  Oneonta this afternoon to remember loved ones whose names were written on ornaments decorating trees along River Street Extension as part of the annual Tree of Lights event. Above, Joan Shackleton, Oneonta, shows her granddaughter Allie Bruno, Albany, the ornament bearing the name of late husband Raymond Shackleton. At right, Sharon Wheeler, Oneonta, takes a photo of the ornament bearing the name of her late husband Rev. Jim Wheeler, who passed in 2015. Following remarks by President/CEO Dan Ayers, Hospice Chaplain Bruce Helstrom, board chair Connie Jastremski and others, the trees were lit as the crowd sang “Peace on Earth.” (Ian Austin/


Food Trucks Delight, ZZ Top Tonight

Food Trucks Delight

As ZZ Top Awaited

Fans are already streaming into the Sixth Ward Booster Club field to sample goodies at the food truck festival and claim their spot for tonight’s ZZ Top concert to benefit Catskill Area Hospice. Above, Bob Deeb, Franklin, gets his tickets at the gate from event volunteer Craig Gelbsman and Ellen Shufelt, both of Oneonta, before entering the event area. At right, Emily and Sam Ackerman show off their salt and vinegar fries and “sin burger” from one of the many food trucks on site. Many craft brews from the area are also on site in the tasting tent. The evening’s events include a food demonstration from BBQ Pitmaster Myron Mixon, Magic by Jim Snack, and music by The Summit before ZZ Top hits the stage at 9 p.m. (Ian Austin/

New Nurses, Expanded Services Part of Dan Ayres’ Hospice Goals

New Nurses, Expanded Services

Part of Dan Ayres’ Hospice Goals

Dan Ayres, Executive Director, Catskill Hospice and Palliative Care, welcomes visitors to the organization’s new consolidated offices on Main Street during a ribbon cutting on Thursday, Jan. 11. (Parker Fish/

By PARKER FISH • Special to

Tammy Christman, an employee at Hospice, gives tours during the open house.

ONEONTA– With new offices, grief counseling, new nurses and early intervention, after just one year at Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care, Dan Ayres is already looking to steer the at-home care provider toward new heights.

“We currently serve roughly 120 patients across Otsego, Delaware and Schoharie counties, but really, we’d like to reach at least 130 to 140 patients,” said Ayres.

Succeeding 25 year president and CEO Lola Rathbone, Ayres took over the position in Jan. 2017. Ayres first order of business was to create one central location for Catskill Area Hospice to operate out of.

Hospice Cuts Ribbon On New Office

Hospice Cuts Ribbon

On New Office

With Otsego Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Ann Heegan to his right, and Catskill Area Hospice President Dan Ayres and Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig to his left, Hospice board member Les Grummons cuts the ceremonial ribbon on Hospice’s new office located on River Street in Oneonta. Catskill Area Hospice consolidated it’s six local offices into one centralized office building to help improve the efficiency of the at-home healthcare provider’s operations. (Parker Fish/AllOTSEGO)


Lola Rathbone To Retire As Catskill Hospice CEO

Lola Rathbone To Retire

As Catskill Hospice CEO

Former Tri-Town, O’Connor Exec Succeeds Her
Lola Rathbone
Lola Rathbone

ONEONTA – Lola Rathbone, president/CEO of Catskill Area Hospital, announced a few minutes ago that she will retire in 2017 after 25 years with the organization.

The Board of Directors has named Dan Ayres, former CEO of O’Connor Hospital in Delhi and Tri-Town Hospital in Sidney, to succeed her.

Ayres, who will be relocating back to the area after heading Summersville Regional Medical Center in West Virginia for the past two years, served on the Hospice Board of Directors for six years.

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