Is a CON challenge imminent in Hillsborough County?

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A decision by the Agency for Health Care Administration to award a new hospice program in Hillsborough County to a hospital affiliated hospice program could draw a challenge from the longstanding existing provider, LifePath, if a Christmas Eve letter to the state is any indication.

Nine applications were submitted to provide new hospice services in Hillsborough County. The state last week announced the hospice program would be awarded to West Florida Health, which is a newly formed company sponsored by Florida Hospital in Orlando and Tampa General Hospital in Tampa.

Tallahassee attorney Seann M. Frazier,  a partner with the firm Parker, Hudson, Rainer & Dobbs, wrote a letter to the Agency for Health Care Administration on behalf of his client, LifePath, December 24 opposing the West Florida Health application as well as one submitted by BayCare Hospice of Hillsborough (sponsored by BayCare Hospital and SunCoast Hospice.

“LifePath does not oppose the introduction of a new hospice provider that will serve the entire Hillsborough County community, provide healthy competition, and expand the use of hospice services to those who would benefit from that care,” Frazier’s letter reads.

CON 10299 Suncoast BayCare Hospice of Hillsborough, LLC (Letter of Opposition)

The concern is that the hospital would stop referring patients to LifePath and refer them instead to the facility  it owns. Thirty-six percent of LifePath’s Medicare residents were discharged from a hospital the same day they entered the hospice. Its 3.8 million operating  margin could quickly turn into a $5.4 million operating deficit if the referrals from hospitals stopped coming.

“If either hospital applicant is approved, the impact on LifePath would be immediate and devastating,” Frazier’s letter reads. “Rather than a gradual ramping up of admissions upon the introduction of a new provider, a hospital-based hospice provider possesses the power to immediately shut down referrals to existing providers such as LifePath, and instead refer all of its hospital patients to its affiliated hospice provider.”

Frazier says that the CON program is meant to promote a health competition and the approval of either hospital affiliated hospice would “create an anti-competitive create an anti-competitive health care silo”  and that it would be unlikely the hospice wold “seek  to serve patients discharged from competing hospital systems, or even from the community at large.”

LifePath treats hospice patients as their homes as well as in one of two freestanding centers, one in Temple Terrace the other in Ruskin.

LifePath is part of  Chapter Health Systems, Inc.

Agency for Health Care Administration spokesperson said impacted providers have until March 16 to challenge the agency’s decision to award a CON. Challenges can be filed by entities that filed applications but weren’t chosen as well as by existing providers, such as LifePath.

AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek in December said she expected litigation to arise from the October 2014 batching cycle where the state announced the need for 3,100 new nursing home beds and hospice programs. “It’s just part of the process,” she said.