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Huntsville Hospital & Hospice Family Care Merger ‘Finally’ Brings Inpatient Care Option for Terminally Ill

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - A merger between two not-for-profits could mean a better way to care for the terminally ill in the Tennessee Valley.
Huntsville Hospital and Hospice Family Care announced Thursday they have officially joined forces.

"It rapidly became clear that there were things within the hospital's expertise and financial capacity and there were things within ours," says Hospice Family Care Board President Tony Palumbo, "but together we had all the capabilities and capacities to do it so that was the vision."

Huntsville Hospital will now apply for a state certificate of need to create a special hospice facility featuring the comforts of home plus 24-hour nursing care.

"Our goal through doing an inpatient hospice facility is to have a place that's more like home," says Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers. "It's more comforting and it better accommodates the family members at that time but still has the clinical care they need to take care of the family member that's passing away."

Both agencies say they know this is a service that has  been lacking in this community but one desperately needed during a patient and family's most vulnerable time.

"It`s an opportunity to do something that really has not been done and certainly has not been done well for a long, long time so this is a great opportunity for us," explains Palumbo.

Smaller communities in Alabama boast care facilities. So why has it taken so long for Huntsville to get on board?

"Well that's a really good question," Spillers admits. "I was surprised when I got here 7 years ago we didn't have it. But I did learn something and that is as a hospital we could not apply for a certificate of need from the state without an outpatient component."

Spillers explains there are already 15 outpatient hospice providers in the community without the critical mass or resources to provide an inpatient facility.

"It's a significant investment," says Tony Palumbo.

But the family care board president explains the challenges of getting to this point go beyond financial considerations. Palumbo says for an inpatient facility Medicare requires a 4-to-1 ratio of in-house facility patients to at-home clients.

"We are taking a look at all that and how we can best reach out to as many people as possible, stay within the federal guidelines, make sure that our need requirements are properly defined and that we get it through the gates with the government for approvals," says Palumbo.

Under the merger, Spillers says, the finances of Hospice Family Care and Huntsville Hospital will be “rolled together.”

“There’s no money changing hands, but their balance sheet becomes part of ours,” he said. “They are basically moving their assets under the health system.”

Founded in 1979, Hospice Family Care has 55 employees who care for terminally ill patients – and their families – in Madison, Limestone, Morgan, Jackson and Marshall counties.

Of the 16 hospices licensed to provide care in Madison County, it is the only not-for-profit. Hospice Family Care is located on West Mill Drive near Brahan Spring Park.