Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, June 13 @ 2:10 p.m. / Health, Local Government

Despite Current Moratorium, Sutter Coast Hospital Petitions State for Hospice License; Supes to Discuss Letter of Support

Sutter Coast Hospital is petitioning the state to allow them to apply for a license to provide hospice services. | File photo: Andrew Goff

Eight months after state lawmakers enacted a moratorium on hospice licenses in an attempt to alleviate over saturation, Sutter Coast Hospital is seeking to bring those services to Del Norte County for the first time in about 20 years.

Sutter Coast officials submitted an exception request to the moratorium about two weeks ago, Ellie Popadic, the hospital’s director of operations, told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Monday. Once the California Department of Public Health’s Centralized Applications Branch approves that request, the hospital can formally seek its hospice license, Popadic said.

“We’ve been evaluating the need for hospice services for quite some time and the moratorium in place put a little bit of a block on that,” she said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to get the approval from the state to be able to move forward with applying for a license and setting up service. That takes some time, but it’s definitely a need in our community.”

Hospice provides medical, physical and spiritual support for patients who have a life-shortening illness as well as their families, Popadic said. Sutter Coast Hospital provides home health services, but without hospice services, patients often have to visit the hospital for care that could be provided at their home, she said.

Once the Centralized Applications Board approves the hospital’s exception request, obtaining a hospice license from CDPH could take three months to a year, Popadic said.

The need for hospice care in Del Norte County is laid out in a proposed letter of support from the Board of Supervisors to CDPH’s Centralized Applications Branch. Scheduled to be discussed Tuesday, the letter addresses State Senate Bill 664, which enacted the moratorium, and points out that Del Norte doesn’t have a hospice program.

“The lack of a hospice service means that members in our community end up spending the last days of their lives either in a hospital when they would much prefer to be home surrounded by those who love them,” the letter states, “or in their home without the much-needed support services inclusive of pain management, medical, emotional and spiritual support.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 664 and Assembly Bill 1280 into law in October. The two bills enacted a moratorium on new hospice licenses and mandated an audit of California’s licensing and oversight process that included a stipulation prohibiting hospices from paying healthcare providers for referrals, according to Hospice News.

The moratorium came the Los Angeles Times reported that the number of hospice providers in California had grown, largely among for-profit companies. This expansion correlated with increasing instances of fraud and negligence, the Times reported.

In an Oct. 28, 2021 article, Hospice News quoted Michael Milward, CEO of California Hospice Network, who said the two bills were designed to “level the playing field for the nonprofit, mission-driven hospices that have always put patients, families and the communities they serve first.”

The moratorium would end a year after the California State Auditor publishes its report on hospice licensure or when the provisions are repealed on Jan. 1, 2027, according to the bill.

Del Norte County’s proposed letter of support for Sutter Coast Hospital’s hospice license references the fraud that allegedly took place among providers in other parts of the Golden State.

“Del Norte County oftentimes is a casualty of larger metropolitan mis-steps, as it is in this case,” the letter states. “We understand the reasoning for the moratorium in larger communities where the fraud was excessive, but Del Norte County has not had a hospice program for nearly 20 years.”

District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey, who initially brought the issue to the attention of her colleagues on May 24, said she felt so strongly that Del Norte needs hospice services she also approached State Sen. Mike McGuire and Assemblyman Jim Wood. Though the hospital offers home health services and palliative care, they are not “real hospice,” Starkey said.

Starkey also mentioned her former colleague, District 5 Supervisor Bob Berkowitz, who died in March.

“He really could have used that,” she said. “He could have used that hospice-type care and we weren’t able to provide that to him.”

The Board of Supervisors meets at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Flynn Center, 981 H Street in Crescent City. To access the agenda, click here.


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