Hospice of the Bluegrass lays off 46 workers

Hospice of the Bluegrass is laying off 46 people, or 7 percent of its 617-person staff.

Deede Byrne, the hospice's chief clinical officer, said Thursday that the cuts affected staff at all of the sites operated by her organization, including social workers, chaplains and administrative positions. No nurses were laid off, she said.

Hospice of the Bluegrass has offices in Lexington, Frankfort, Cynthiana, Florence, Hazard, Corbin, Harlan and Pikeville, and it serves 32 counties in Central, southeastern and Northern Kentucky. It provides end-of-life care and support for terminally ill patients in their homes, at nursing homes and at the Hospice Care Centers in Lexington and Hazard.

Hospice blamed the layoffs on cuts in reimbursements and having to deal with new regulatory requirements that include additional data collection about patient care and outcomes, which increased the organization's costs. Since 2009, payments to hospice have been reduced by more than 11 percent, according to a news release issued Thursday.

More physicians are recommending hospice to patients than in past years, but the average time a patient uses hospice is shorter than the six-month benefit permits, the news release said.

"Patients are coming to us later in their disease process," Byrne said in an interview. "Half of our patients die in less than 15 days. That's a really short time to be in hospice and have an optimal hospice experience."

Hospice of the Bluegrass's president and chief executive, Gretchen Brown, said laid-off employees are being offered a severance package, and the organization "will do what we can to make a difficult situation more bearable."