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Harris Health Expands End-of-Life Services by Offering Hospice Care

​Patients at Harris Health System’s hospitals—Ben Taub, Lyndon B. Johnson and Quentin Mease—now have access to end-of-life hospice care through an agreement with Community Health Choice, the health system’s health maintenance organization.

Hospice care is a comfortable, supportive treatment given to patients during their final stages of a terminal illness. The goal is to improve patients’ quality of life and help them live each day as comfortable as possible.

“We’re grateful to provide this type of service to our patients,” says Mike Hill, senior vice president and chief business development and strategic officer, Harris Health. “It’s the compassionate thing to do for our patients and their families. Everyone deserves dignity in their life. The hospice environment will help patients and their families work through what is a very difficult time.”

Harris Health added hospice care to its schedule of benefits and began its first collaboration with Houston Hospice, the first of several potential providers under the Community Health Choice network.

Among terminal oncology patients in 2017, Harris Health treated 150 patients who died at its hospitals. Despite being eligible for hospice care, the patients remained in the hospital for a cumulative 1,806 days. Of the total, nearly 25 percent was spent in hospital intensive care units.

“If you take into consideration the quality of life and patient-centered care, hospice is the right thing to do and a great option to assist patients and families with end of life care,” says Charlie McMurray-Horton, RN-BC PMH, NEA-BC, BSN, MS, administrative director, Utilization Management, Harris Health.

McMurray-Horton reports that about 40 percent of the terminally-ill patients usually died within 30 days after their ICU admission.

Today, patients who meet certain criteria for hospice care will be transferred to either an inpatient hospice facility or a home hospice—meaning a patient’s home or that of a loved one. During hospice care, staff and families manage a patient’s physical pain with mild medications or treatments.

“We’re using Harris Health palliative care partners and counselors to provide end-of-life support to enable family and friends to feel confident in their ability to care for their loved one,” Hill says. “It’s the appropriate setting for them, as opposed to a hospital environment.”

Harris Health has wanted to expand its use of hospice care for years, but has been unable to afford the substantial cost. Through financial efficiencies and working with its HMO partner, Harris Health has been able to add this important service.

“Indigent patients have difficulty finding a hospice program available to them,” Hill notes. “Now, each hospice program certainly takes in indigent healthcare, but a high percentage of our patients are unable to afford that type of care.”

This program now makes access affordable for eligible patients. To qualify, patients must meet the indigent financial requirements set by Harris Health’s financial assistance program.