County OKs more money for hospice, urges long- term solvency

Feb 7, 2012 By Martin Reed Staff Writer

Managers of the Help for Health Hospice Home in Riverton are getting a $300,000 injection into their operation in an effort to expand service and reach viability in the new year.

The funding requested by the Help for Health officials is coming from the trust account created under the voter-approved tax plan that led to the creation of the Riverton facility in September 2008.

The $2.8 million trust account is intended to last for 40 years and help with operations and maintenance of the facility.

Fremont County commissioners approved the group's request late in 2011, but the approval came with concerns about the hospice's own health in light of ongoing financial challenges.

"Do you have a plan so you don't have to keep doing this every year?" commission chairman Doug Thompson asked the hospice's managers.

Help for Health executive director Laura Toppenberg said the facility recently developed a "strategic plan" that will help stabilize its financial situation.

"That's where the strategic plan does address that," Toppenberg said. "We believe if we had that market share of eligible hospice patients in Fremont County we would be able to sustain our revenues."

Funding hurdles

The hospice's managers have faced a number of funding obstacles, ranging from the departure of the company originally intended to oversee the facility to problems with obtaining Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

The hospice managers recently enlisted the services of a consultant who developed a strategic plan that will help guide the facility's successful operations, she said.

Toppenberg said the requested $300,000 from the trust account would help the facility achieve the goals outlined in its plan.

Growing demand

Help for Health board president Mary Margaret Stockton said the facility's operation continues to grow each year.

"In the first year, we struggled. In the second year, we did 17 times better than the first year," Stockton said, adding that 2011 has been three times better than 2010.

"Our new strategic plan has lots of ways we are looking forward to increase our market share," she said, noting efforts to expand hospice services to patients in their homes.

The trust account benefiting the hospice continues to be more than the anticipated $2.3 million level over the 40-year period because of excess tax revenues generated for the purpose.

"There is excess revenue over and above," Fremont County Treasurer Scott Harnsberger said.

A problem identified by commission vice chairman Pat Hickerson was the use of the funds to help the hospice stay competitive with other privately owned entities.

"My concerns are we're subsidizing a service other people are competing for in the community with tax dollars," Hickerson said. "How much do we have to subsidize ... to make it viable?"

Stockton said the company initially on board to manage the facility knew Help for Health would be a competitor.

"The other group that was to be our partner created their own advantage or disadvantage when they pulled out," she said. "We told them when they pulled out we would have to be in competition with them for inpatients to make it work."

Source defended

Stockton said using the taxpayer funds is appropriate.

She said she didn't think it would be unfair to use the funds to get the patients needed, adding that the organization's 12-person volunteer group is competing against a "huge" national corporation.

Commissioner Dennis Christensen abstained from voting on the requested funding because his wife serves on the Help for Health board.

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