Hospice of the Bluegrass lays off 16 employees

Hospice of the Bluegrass, which provides care to nearly 900 patients and families each day, said Monday that it was reducing its staff by 16 positions.

Hospice blamed the need for the layoff on two factors:

■ Hospice programs nationally have seen significant cuts in reimbursements, including a 2 percent rate cut caused by budget sequestration, the third reduction for hospice programs from the federal government since 2009.

Eighty-five percent of Hospice funding comes from Medicare, said Hospice president and CEO Gretchen Brown.

■ During the past 15 months, Hospice has admitted higher numbers of patients, but they come to Hospice later in their disease progression. That means Hospice has seen a 30 percent decline in the length of time a patient is in the program.

Hospice of the Bluegrass provides care for the terminally ill, their families and the grieving in 32 service areas in southeastern, Central and Northern Kentucky.

The staff reduction affects clinical and administrative staff in Central Kentucky.

Hospice of the Bluegrass has offices in Lexington, Frankfort, Cynthiana, Florence, Hazard, Corbin, Harlan and Pikeville. Employees affected by the change have been offered severance packages and have been given at least 30 days' notice, Hospice said in a news release.

Brown said in a telephone interview that Hospice has 374 full-time positions and an additional 100 employees in private duty and a transition program that helps decrease readmissions to the hospital. She said Hospice worked with more than 5,000 people during the course of a year.

Brown said the agency had to tailor its staff for the number of patients it had, and because of the short amount of time spent in Hospice care, that number had decreased.

Last year, the average daily census for the entire program was 930; on Monday, it stood at 870.

"Those are jobs that don't have work to do," Brown said of the decline in patient and family numbers.

"Mostly what we're seeing is patients living a shorter period of time in Hospice," she said. "They may be getting treatment that they just finally realize is not going to work. ... It's a hard reality to accept."