William E. Finn: Education and transparency are keys to quality end-of-life choices

William E. Finn, CEO, Hospice of the Western Reserve

William E. Finn, CEO, Hospice of the Western Reserve

By William E. Finn

As business leaders, we all know it is crucial to maintain best practices and the highest ethical standards. This is important not only to preserve the reputation of the business sector, but to deliver on a promise of quality and customer satisfaction. These same core principles apply within the health care and public service sectors.

Recently, there have been several national news stories alleging unscrupulous practices by a few national hospice providers. These practices abuse the public trust, and cast a shadow on hospice’s sacred mission of providing dignity, comfort and end-of-life care. The articles focus on unethical incentive-based marketing practices and other tactics designed to exploit the government benefit.

Taking advantage of families during this most vulnerable time is outrageous and unconscionable, and points to a need for uniform standards, transparency, accountability and education. These investigative news stories raise legitimate questions about the practices of a few providers.

Learn about choices

However, some readers may assume that all hospice providers follow these practices. Therefore, it is important to encourage more dialogue about end-of-life care as a vital component of the health care continuum. A better understanding of choices is needed so that when a member of the family needs care, we can make well-informed decisions.

So, what are these choices?  Nonprofit community hospice agencies tend to offer a larger menu of specialized therapies and services. All revenues remain in the region and are directed back into patient care. How about experience? The number of years the organization has been providing care is critical. Does the hospice have a full-time board certified physician in palliative medicine on staff, as well as nurses certified in hospice and palliative care nursing?

If a hospice encourages its employees to be certified in hospice and palliative care, then you can assume that the hospice is focused on quality. Does the hospice collaborate with the regional medical community?  Through our Hospice Institute and partnership with leading universities, we offer continuing education to the local medical community on end-of-life care issues.

Since the scope of services and quality of care can vary considerably between hospices, transparency is of paramount importance. Reputable hospice organizations constantly evaluate patient and family feedback and strive for continuous improvement. We conduct surveys within the first 10 days of admission to hospice for patients who are cared for at home; we display the results quarterly on our website.

Discover the benefits

Studies have shown that hospice not only improves quality of care, but it reduces costs by decreasing hospitalizations, re-hospitalizations and emergency room use. Most importantly, it allows each of us can a choice on how to spend the final stage of life. Sometimes, a disease course cannot be changed.

However, hospice can change how a person approaches the rest of his or her life, giving patients choices, comfort and dignity. Moving forward, quality and accountability must be the universal guiding principles for hospice organizations to ensure that every individual has the opportunity to choose wisely.

William E. Finn

Hospice of the Western Reserve provides palliative end-of-life care, caregiver support, and bereavement services throughout Northern Ohio.

William has served as CEO since February 2011 and has been in the field of hospice and palliative care for 28 years.