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AHCA Gives Tentative Approval To Additional Hospice Expansion

Health care worker walking on outdoor tree-lined path with older patient in hospice setting
Annette Birkenfeld
The state had previously listed Duval, Pinellas, Miami-Dade and Brevard as areas needing hospice programs.

New hospice programs may now be coming to seven counties, including Broward, Lee and Manatee, which were not included in a Feb. 5 list of areas that needed new programs.

Florida health care regulators announced this year that the state needed an additional four hospice programs by July 2022 to care for people who are dying. This week, though, the state Agency for Health Care Administration gave tentative approval to twice that many.

The decisions, announced Monday, could bring additional hospice programs to seven counties, including Broward, Lee and Manatee, which were not included in a Feb. 5 published list of areas that needed new programs.

But the decisions are not final. Under state regulations, health care providers have 21 days after the state publishes decisions to file challenges in state administrative court. Providers can challenge agency decisions to deny their applications or decisions to approve competitors’ applications.

The four areas on the February list for needed hospice programs included a Northeast Florida region that includes St. Johns, Duval, Baker, Clay and Nassau counties. The state gave tentative approval to an application submitted by Alleo Health of Florida to open a program in Duval County, according to Monday’s announcement. It denied what are known as “certificate of need” applications submitted by Compassus U.S. of Florida LLC; Cornerstone Hospice & Palliative Care Inc.; and OMNI Health Jacksonville Inc.

In Pinellas County, where the state had said one additional program was needed, the Agency for Health Care Administration approved Hernando-Pasco Hospice Inc’s certificate of need application. Caretenders Visiting Services of Pinellas County Inc.; Cornerstone Hospice & Palliative Care Inc. and VITAS Healthcare Corp. also submitted applications for the area but were denied.

Brevard County was another area that regulators had targeted for one additional hospice program. Three providers competed for the program. The state approved an application submitted by Amedisys Hospice LLC and denied applications submitted by Halifax Hospice Inc. and Seasons Hospice Palliative Care of Northeast Florida.

Catholic Hospice Inc. and Continuum Care of Miami Dade each got approval from the state to build a hospice program in Miami-Dade County, although regulators had said only one new program was needed. Applications submitted by Moments Hospice, Inc. and Citadel Healthcare Inc. were denied.

The state had announced a need for a new hospice program in Seminole County, but it didn’t approve a program, according to Monday’s published announcement.

By contrast, the state had not listed a need for a new hospice program in Manatee County. But the state approved an application submitted by Affinity Care of Manatee County Inc.

Interest in new hospice programs in Lee and Broward counties was more limited, with only one provider submitting an application in each area. Vitas Healthcare Corp. of Florida was approved for a program in Lee County, and Catholic Hospice Inc. was approved for a program in Broward County.

In addition to releasing its hospice decisions this week, the state announced it had approved a plan by Premier Living in Seminole County to build a $29 million, 71-bed nursing home. Additionally, the state approved a request by Avante Group Inc to transfer its certificate of need to build a 121-bed nursing home to Avante at Orange County, LLC.

Certificate of need, often referred to as CON, is a controversial regulatory process that supporters argue helps prevent unnecessary and costly expansions of services. Critics, however, say the CON process is unnecessary regulation that encourages monopolies.

Under the CON process, the state first publishes whether there is a need for additional health care services, and providers can then submit applications. The Repbulican-led Legislature in 2019 eliminated the CON process for hospitals but left it intact for the hospice programs, nursing home beds and facilities that treat people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Christine Sexton - News Service of Florida