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Death of common sense: State forcing Lakeland hospice to shut down over clerical error

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Time after time, hospice has proven to be a godsend for patients, families and loved ones.

Hospice allows individuals to die with dignity, to finish lives without the pain, loneliness and fear that often accompanies death. Outside the sterile environment of a hospital, hospice patients are free from the regimen of invasive procedures typically associated with the (ultimately futile) attempt to prolong life.

With the invaluable role of hospice in quality end-of-life care, why then has the State of Florida ordered one facility in Lakeland to shut down under threats of police action?

It did. And it was over a paperwork error.

Compassionate Care Hospice of Central Florida Inc. no longer holds a license to operate as a hospice, and if currently operating, must immediately cease operations and transfer all patients,” says the letter from Noel Lawrence, program administrator for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

Peter Shute, the administrator at Compassionate Care Hospice on Drane Field Road, received the email, with the notification letter as an attachment, on March 9.

“Failure to immediately cease operations and transfer all patients is unlicensed activity and may result in a referral to law enforcement and regulatory sanctions,” Lawrence warned.

For families suffering through some of the most stressful circumstances possible, forcing them to start anew, somewhere else and with new caregivers – especially during last days of a patient’s life – is simply inconceivable.

Is it possible that the State of Florida can be so heartless to terminally ill patients … over a bookkeeping mistake?

Geoffrey Smith, the Melbourne attorney representing CCH, filed an emergency writ of mandate in the Tenth Judicial Circuit in Polk County, asking to suspend the shutdown, and requesting an emergency hearing.

Smith says the hospice has already submitted its license renewal by mail. He insists the state is punitively attempting to deprive terminally ill patients of necessary care, at one of the worst times possible, all because of a “disputed clerical error.”

“You can imagine saying to someone who has terminal cancer, ‘We can’t give you your pain medication today,'” Smith told the Lakeland Ledger on Tuesday. “Or saying, ‘today your mom is dying but you can’t have your chaplain today.’ “

Although patients and families would certainly be the first affected, they are far from the only ones to feel the brunt of a closure.

Compassionate Care offers hospice services throughout Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties, providing care and comfort for terminally ill patients not only in private homes, but also in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

In his filing, Smith notes that of CCH services also have an enormous monetary value.

“CCH will lose the millions of dollars … invested over the last seven years in getting its Service Area 6B hospice program approved through the CON (Certificate of Need) process and operational. CCH has suffered and will continue to suffer significant, unquantifiable damages in terms of lost new admissions, future lost profits, devaluation of the ongoing business asset, and damage to CCH and CCH’s affiliated programs’ reputation in Florida and nationally.”

There is one thing that makes the entire situation particularly egregious. Under Florida law, the penalty for late filing of renewal paperwork is $50 per day, with an aggregate amount not to exceed 50 percent of the licensure fee or $500, whichever is less.

That’s right – all this over $500. Max.

“AHCA’s interpretation … is the equivalent of a death penalty, license revocation and immediate shut down, for the same action that other providers only receive a maximum fine of $500.00,” Smith’s filing says.

For a company with “Compassion” in its name, CCH merits more than a little sensitivity from the State of Florida.

At least for the sake of employees, families and – most of all — its patients.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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