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Lowville hospital finally takes over Hospice, home health programs

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County hospice and home health care programs have finally moved under the auspices of Lewis County General Hospital, nearly two years after county lawmakers signed off on the shift.

“It was a long process to get our approval,” said Board of Legislators Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan. “But we had a goal in mind to make our departments more efficient and do some consolidation on our own. Finally, with the cooperation of all parties, we were able to reach our goal.”

County legislators approved moving the programs’ oversight to the county-owned hospital from the county Public Health Agency in February 2011 in hopes of avoiding continued budgetary deficits. Since then, much time has been spent gaining needed state approvals and preparing for the move, Mr. Tabolt said.

Under the change, 20 employees — 10 in the certified home health aide program, eight in hospice and two shared workers — were transferred on Jan. 1 from the Lewis County Public Health Agency to the hospital.

While officials continue behind-the-scenes work on the transfer, they said most residents should see little difference, aside from a new phone number of 376-5308 for the two programs.

“Patients haven’t seen any changes,” said Tammy Suiter, patient care coordinator at Lewis County Hospice.

Existing hospital support services such as human resources, staff training, health information, billing and marketing are expected to benefit both programs.

“It makes sense to combine resources so that these vital services remain available for the residents of Lewis County,” said hospital CEO Eric R. Burch. “Health care is changing with a focus being placed on assisting patients with managing their care after discharge from the hospital. The home health program can be a vital piece in helping patients control and achieve their health goals after they are discharged from the hospital. Further, the addition of Hospice offers patients the option to stay in the comfort of their home with family during the final stages of their lives.”

“They fit very well in our hospital family,” said Christina M. Flint, the hospital’s marketing and public relations director.

According to program officials, the certified home health program gets roughly 600 referrals a year, including both active patients and patient evaluations for the Department of Social Services and nursing home, while Hospice assists roughly 70 families each year.

“We know we’re not hitting the number of people that could use the service,” Mrs. Suiter said.

One of the ongoing difficulties for hospice officials is the stigma attached to the program, which is intended to assist residents with a “life-limiting illness,” she said.

While people sometimes wait until their final days to seek hospice services, both the program and families benefit from more lengthy periods of service, Mrs. Suiter said.

Short stints are relatively costly to the program because they involve more intensive staff participation and require significant expenses for equipment and medication, regardless of how little they are used, she said.

A more lengthy service period also gives more time for staff members to counsel family members and help patients get more comfortable and undertake activities in which they are interested, Mrs. Suiter said.

“We do encourage people to get out and do things,” she said.

Patients may be discharged from the program if it is deemed unnecessary, Mrs. Suiter said.

“I do think we make a difference in people’s lives, and there are people out there who need that experience,” she said.

Along with paid staff members, Lewis County Hospice has about 50 volunteers who assist with everything from patient care to administration and fundraising, depending upon their interests, Mrs. Suiter said.

A 32-hour training course for those interested in becoming volunteers will be held in the spring.

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