Health

St. Croix Hospice center opens branch in Cedar Rapids

A couple hold hands at a hospice facility. (File photo/Tribune News Service)
A couple hold hands at a hospice facility. (File photo/Tribune News Service)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As the aging population continues to expand, so does the demand for hospice and palliative care.

This specialized medical care — offered to patients at end of life or living with a serious chronic illness — has grown in use, in part because of broader acceptance of this care and better end-of-life planning by patients in recent years, experts say.

But it wasn’t the demand among patients that drove St. Croix Hospice to open a branch in Cedar Rapids this past month. It was the workforce.

“We never had a strategic plan to serve so a certain number of counties in Iowa or anything like that,” said Heath Bartness, founder and chief executive officer of St. Croix Hospice. “It’s really just been by request to come to these different areas based on some prior relationships we’ve had, most oftentimes with caregivers.”

Bartness said his organization would build relationships with caregivers, such as nurses or nursing aides, in nursing homes around the state. When those employees took job opportunities in the Cedar Rapids area, those caregivers requested St. Croix offer services to their new patients.

“That’s why we even started considering the Cedar Rapids area, because of some requests,” Bartness said.

St. Croix Hospice offers hospice care services 24/7 to patients in their home, a nursing home, or whatever other setting they may be in. Currently, it has several offices in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

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The Cedar Rapids branch, which opened Sept. 10 at 3741 Center Point Rd. NE, is the eighth location in Iowa. The organization also has offices in Cedar Falls, Charles City and Strawberry Point.

A staff of roughly 900 cares for almost 1,800 patients a day across five states, Bartness said. Staff members include clinicians, social workers, chaplains, counselors and therapists.

Bartness founded St. Croix Hospice in Minnesota 11 years ago. Bartness operated nursing homes in Iowa in the early 2000s and was disappointed by the way hospice workers interacted with his nursing home staff.

He said he wanted to “build something to complement, not supplement,” a patient’s care team.

“Nursing homes are not trained for end-of-life care,” he said.

The goal of St. Croix Hospice is to offer holistic care to patients, which includes emotional and spiritual support, in addition to physical care.

“Hospice is one of the greatest value in health care,” Bartness said. “There’s no other service line that can do what we do.

“We are fully committed to Cedar Rapids and beyond,” he said.

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, 1.48 million Medicare beneficiaries received hospice care in 2017, a 4.5 percent increase from the previous year. More than half of these individuals received care at home.

Nearly 57 percent of Medicare beneficiaries in Iowa were enrolled in hospice services at the time of their death in 2017, according to a 2018 report from the organization.

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Hospice admissions continue to rise in the U.S. during the first half of 2018, according to Atlanta-based analytics firm Trella Health, which stated admissions grew 3.5 percent from the second quarter of 2017 to the second quarter of 2018.

But according to a 2018 study by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, the supply of hospice and palliative medicine physicians may soon be outstripped by the demand for care. Researchers state the graduating class sizes will need to grow “325 graduates annually to between 500 and 600 per year by 2030 to assure sufficient physician workforce for hospice and palliative care services.”

Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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