A $7 million project underway in midtown Kansas City represents another step in addressing a regional need that cuts across demographic and economic lines.
Following a March 30 ground breaking, Saint Luke’s Hospice House is under construction on the west side of Southwest Trafficway between 35th and 37th streets.
Plans call for the 25,000-square-foot facility, which includes two chapels and a full-service kitchen, to open in about a year with 12 rooms and space to expand.
Most hospice patients have a Medicare benefit that is quite good, said Carol Quiring, chief executive of Saint Luke’s Home Care and Hospice, a nonprofit division of Saint Luke’s Health System.
“We do everything we can to take care of someone whether they have that level of insurance or not,” she added. “End of life care is just something that I think the entire hospice community works to make sure patients are not left without services.”
To make way for the new facility, Saint Luke’s is demolishing a vacant, early 20th century home that once served as a nursing home. Plans call for an artisan to carve an altar for the home out of a tree on the wooded lot.
The start of work on Saint Luke’s Hospice House came about a week after Research Medical Center opened a 16-bed inpatient hospice unit on the seventh floor of the hospital. Florida-based VITAS Healthcare Corp. operates and staffs the unit and leases the space from the hospital.
It was less than two years ago that NorthCare Hospice & Palliative Care opened its 16-bed NorthCare Hospice House. The facility occupies a renovated wing of North Kansas City Hospital.
These recent developments come on heels of the opening in 2006 of the 32-bed Kansas City Hospice House in south Kansas City.
Each facility accepts patients from multi-county service areas. Saint Luke’s, for instance, works in 26 counties in Kansas and Missouri.
The increasing focus on smooth hand-offs between providers is one driving factor in the addition of inpatient beds, hospice officials said.
“Those of us who have done hospice forever have always felt like, maybe in the early days, it was an underutilized and under-recognized huge piece in the continuum of care for aging adults in America,” said Kim Logan, executive director of NorthCare Hospice & Palliative Care.
Hospice care is also cost-effective. Saint Luke’s cited Duke University research that showed average Medicare savings per hospice patient of $2,309 versus similar care in a hospital.
According to Logan, the average Medicare payment for inpatient hospice care is around $675 per day per patient. A well-run and smartly staffed hospice facility can operate with that reimbursement, she said.
The realization that allowing a patient to die with dignity is sometimes the best medical intervention has only gained broad acceptance in the United States within the past three to four decades, said John Carney, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas City-based Center for Practical Bioethics.
Taking heroic measures to save a patient suffering from a progressive disease can actually do more harm than good, he said, and it’s an unwise use of medical dollars.
“So it is really drawing a distinct line in the sand that says, ‘If you continue to do these things to these people, you are not going to benefit them. You are only going to waste resources and cause harm, so stop doing it,’” Carney said.
While serving as the center’s vice president of aging and end of life, he served on the board of Saint Luke’s Home Care and Hospice when the division moved forward with the hospice house. Prior to the decision, he said, board members spent a lot of time studying the financial viability of its operations.
The addition of another inpatient hospice facility is good news for Colleen Booz Dittrich, a social work manager in case management at The University of Kansas Hospital. Her job is to find the right placements for patients upon discharge. She makes hospice referrals daily.
“I think it just provides one more option for a patient and a family to consider,” she said, “and I think it is always good to have as many options as possible when you are making that type of decision.”