COOPERSTOWN – Helios Care will honor Lola Rathbone of Milford, former president/CEO of its predecessor, Catskill Area Hospice, and The Otesaga at its 20th annual Epicurean Food & Wine Tasting, planned 3-6 p.m. Sunday, March 29, at The Otesaga.
The event is open to the public and will benefit nonprofit Helios Care, the leading provider in palliative and hospice care and grief counseling locally.
A brisk run on a cold morning is a good way to get ready for Thanksgiving dinner! 477 runners took to the streets for the annual Thanksgiving Day 5K Turkey Trot for Helios Care. Above, Carson Pashley, Austin Hitt, Christopher Mosconi, Noah Artis, Ron Reed, Emma Peeters, Kacie Hymers, Michael Hamilton, Andrew Stanton, Tristan Ethier Matthew Rubin, and Alanmichael Rubin take off from the finish line at the start of the race. At right, Daniel Butterman runs with his daughter Layla to the finish line for a time of 29:30. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
ONEONTA – Helios Care is not this captain’s first ship.
A native of Weirton, W.Va., Dan Ayres, with a Marshall University journalism degree and three years at his hometown Weirton Daily Times, joined the Navy in 1982, retiring from the Navy reserves a quarter-century later as a commander.
“I was a surprise baby,” said the youngest son of steel worker Earl Ayres and homemaker Julia. He was born 15 years after his brothers, who set a high standard: One became an IRS chief counsel, another a CEO of an international consultancy, the third an IBM vice president.
Tough acts to follow, but Dan caught the Ayres fever.
He picked up his father’s gregariousness: “All you have to do is say hello to people,” Earl would say. And his mother’s resolve: “Be a leader, not a follower.”
The parents drummed a message into all the boys: “You’re going to go to college; and YOU’RE going to pay for it.”
Within five years in the Navy, mostly aboard ship – Dan also met his wife, Sheila, then a waitress at the officers’ club in Norfolk, Va.; she’s now an RN and Bassett administrator – Ayres was promoted to commanding officer at the Naval Reserve Center in Burlington, Vt., on Lake Champlain.
“I loved being on ship,” but when the Navy summoned him back to sea in 1990, he wasn’t ready.
Then Sheila alerted him to the support services VP vacancy at the Fanny Allen. What did he know about running a hospital? Sheila replied, “It’s like a ship” – complex, lots of moving parts, 24-7 – “that doesn’t go to sea.”
He applied and got the job, and he a met range of cost, quality and design parameters as Mary Fletcher’s campus expanded.
After a stint with a contract management firm, Intellex, he was recruited to his first hospital presidency in 2004 – he had worked for now-retired Bassett CEO Bertine McKenna at Fanny Allen. He took the helm at O’Connor Hospital in Delhi, adding the Tri-Town Hospital presidency in 2014.
Recruited away in 2014 to Summersville Regional Medical Center – his West Virginia’s hometown hospital – he had a plan that involved cuts to make the hospital solvent, in the process becoming “very, very unpopular.”
The phone rang, and it was Lola Rathbone, his Catskill Hospice predecessor; he had served on its board for six years. “We want someone who knows something about hospice care and where it’s going,” she said.
“Now, I’m interested,” said the man with a plan, his wheels turning.
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.