Around a conference table at the Community Home Health and Hospice center in Longview, several directors and department heads sit, breathe and discuss the rapidly growing and changing organization.

After only a few minutes, it becomes clear just how busy they’ve all been.

“We’ve never had the time to sit down and talk about all we’ve been working on,” said Phyllis Kochis, the Hospice Care Center coordinator.

After 30 years in business, CHHH is resisting the urge to settle into a groove.

The Longview-based organization, which has centers in Vancouver and Longview, is responding to challenges in the health care industry with new programs and services, and is seeing growth as a result.

Community Home Health and Hospice offers in-home hospice and a 12-bed hospice care center in Longview, home health – which requires a doctor’s orders – home care personal services for anything from help with grocery shopping or child care to a travel companion, and free bereavement services available to anyone in the community.

Developing a workforce

To compete for the dwindling supply of nurses and physicians, CHHH is opening a $700,000 day care center across the alley from its Longview office.

Set to open Jan. 2, there will be space for 50 children from four months to 10 years. Staff will have the first option to take part in the service.

The organization will hire additional staff to man the day care, which will be outfitted with a closed circuit video monitoring system that parents will have access to throughout the day via the internet and a password.

Staff and community members will pay the same for the service, but rates have yet to be determined.

“The idea came from staff feedback and demographic trends,” said Executive Director Greg Pang. “There is such a scarcity of clinicians and physicians, we need to do everything we can to compete for younger trainable nurses.”

The average age of nurses at the organization is 48.

It’s a strategy for retention and recruitment in this highly competitive labor market.

Since announcing the day care, two staff have accepted jobs at the organization because they know it is coming, Pang said.

“We think it’s an if-you-build-it-they-will-come situation,” he said.

In the last two years, part- and full-time staff in the organization has grown from 185 to 229.

The nonprofit is banking on the fact that baby boomers will start to demand to be cared for at home, and is investing in its staff now with perks like the day care and wage increases.   

“Our job is to have the workforce to provide their needs,” Pang said. “Our future depends on staying ahead of the curve.”

Community liaisons

Last year, CHHH created a community liaison program and added three staff split between the two offices. The liaison nurses work with area hospital discharge planners to help transition patients from the hospital to home care.

They can meet the patient, help them understand their medical conditions and available care options.

By law, the hospitals are required to provide patients with several options for home care, but it has helped increase the number of patients cared for through the Vancouver office by almost 350 percent in 18 months, said Rick Parker, Home Care Director.

Although Community Home Health and Hospice has been located in Vancouver since 1988, the office relocated to less than a half-mile from Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital in 2006 – not a coincidence.

“We wanted to be able to get there in less than five minutes,” Pang said.

The liaisons also help with communication between the organization and the hospitals – “We get much better information quicker, and we can be informed of the patients’ needs ahead of time,” Parker said. “There is a lot of demand for seamless transitions.”

Upping awareness

The service also has upped community awareness about the other services the organization provides, which are often forgotten, even by the health care community.

In the past two years, the Longview center saw a 30 percent increase in the number of home care clients and a 34 percent increase in the number of hospice patients. Overall, both offices served about 2,000 home health patients and 823 hospice patients.

With the growing number of patients, CHHH is looking toward November, when it is set to be the first area provider of telemonitoring services for its home health patients.

The monitors, which cost $4,000 to $7,000 each, monitor patients’ vital signs in the home.

Home health nurses are able to visit patients two to three times a week, which leaves time for their health to shift.

The telemonitors check patient vitals and submit data via the web to nurses or doctors, who may catch problems before they get out of hand.

Currently, there is no reimbursement for the technology, but Sen. Patty Murray was able to appropriate some funds for the pilot of 15 to 20 monitors.

To continue growing its public awareness, CHHH recently introduced a community relations department, and there are plans in the works to expand the hospice care center from 12 to 20 beds and establish permanent grief support centers for bereavement services.

“It’s kind of exciting,” Pang said. “As a nonprofit, all of our growth goes back into the community, and it’s fun to think through the ways we can expand.”