A totem stands outside Hospice and Home Care of Juneau, which is shutting down Wednesday after providing services for about 20 years due to lack of staff. The closure will affect 17 home health and two hospice patients, with program and city officials in discussions with Bartlett Regional Hospital and SEARHC about taking over services for such patients. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A totem stands outside Hospice and Home Care of Juneau, which is shutting down Wednesday after providing services for about 20 years due to lack of staff. The closure will affect 17 home health and two hospice patients, with program and city officials in discussions with Bartlett Regional Hospital and SEARHC about taking over services for such patients. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Hospice and Home Care of Juneau closing Wednesday

Program halting due to shortage and high cost of staff. Officials hope BRH, SEARHC can offer care.

An earlier version of this article erroneously stated an occupational therapist was moving to the Lower 48. A registered nurse is moving, not an occupational therapist. This article has been updated to omit the incorrect information.

Hospice and Home Care of Juneau is shutting down next Wednesday due to lack of registered nursing staff, meaning current hospice patients will be discharged and home services by paid caretakers will cease, according to the director of the program.

There are currently 17 home health and two hospice patients, Erin Walker-Tolles, executive director of Catholic Community Services in Juneau, said in an interview Friday. She said all have primary care providers they are being referred to in order to develop individual care plans, and her agency is in discussions with officials at Bartlett Regional Hospital and SEARHC about having them provide some or all of the services affected.

“It’s difficult to be in a situation where we can’t provide the care we’ve provided during the past 20 years,” she said. But “it will be faster for the community if we suspend and Bartlett picks up the program” since the hospital already provides some related services and it would likely take a new organization a year or more to get regulatory approval.

Erin Hardin, a Bartlett spokesperson, stated in an email interview Friday hospital officials are aware of the pending hospice shutdown and “we are committed to helping support these critical services.”

“We are working to obtain licensing with the State of Alaska as well as negotiating through our legal department to establish a format where we can reestablish these programs for the citizens of our service area,” she wrote.

A letter sent Aug. 11 by CCS to providers and patients in the hospice and home care program states “patients and caregivers have been educated on when to call 911 for immediate life-threatening illness. Supplies required for caregivers and patients have been left in the home.”

CCS volunteers will still provide home support for end-of-life patients, including three chaplains who will also offer bereavement counseling, Walker-Tolles said. People seeking such volunteer and spiritual support can call the agency at (907) 463-6111.

CCS has struggled to adequately staff the program during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the situation became dire at the end of June when CCS Board President John Greely told Bartlett’s board of directors about the agency’s financial hardship, according a letter sent Aug. 12 to Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon. The letter stated CCS “will stop taking referrals for new patients effective Friday, September 2, unless the agency is assured of receiving funding of $50,000 per month to cover additional expenses and stem financial losses.”

The situation was discussed at the Juneau Assembly’s Aug. 29 meeting, with Deputy City Manager Robert Barr telling members that staff would work with Bartlett to continue providing assistance. He said Friday discussions between the stakeholders have been ongoing, but specific arrangements are still pending.

A nationwide shortage of health care workers is reaching crisis levels in many areas, with rural areas hit hardest, according to a study published this month by Health Affairs. Walker-Tolles said the practical impact for local hospice care is traveling providers who used to be paid $55 an hour are now demanding more than double that amount.

Furthermore, the problem isn’t one that can be realistically solved simply by a fundraising plea, whether in the form of a large loan or grant from an organization or small amounts from individuals, since the bulk of funds come through reimbursements such as Medicare/Medicaid, she said.

“Any (emergency) funding is a Band-Aid,” she said. “The long-term solution is a robust staffing model, and we can’t compete with Bartlett and SEARHC. It felt a little irresponsible to ask the community to spend a bunch of money when it’s not a long-term solution.”

Some indication of how the shutdown will affect patients is already evident since CCS stopped accepting new patients at the beginning of September. There were roughly 50 home health patients and several more hospice patients when the CCS sent its letter to the mayor, and Walker-Tolles said the home patients were generally able to recover since then while hospice patients have been getting transition help from various entities, such as Capital City Fire/Rescue providing moving services.

“It’s heartbreaking to let it go, but we know we’re doing the best thing for the community,” she said. “We need a sustainable program.”

• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 15

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Rep. Sara Hannan (right) offers an overview of this year’s legislative session to date as Rep. Andi Story and Sen. Jesse Kiehl listen during a town hall by Juneau’s delegation on Thursday evening at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Multitude of education issues, budget, PFD among top areas of focus at legislative town hall

Juneau’s three Democratic lawmakers reassert support of more school funding, ensuring LGBTQ+ rights.

Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, mayor of the Inupiaq village of Nuiqsut, at the area where a road to the Willow project will be built in the North Slope of Alaska, March 23, 2023. The Interior Department said it will not permit construction of a 211-mile road through the park, which a mining company wanted for access to copper deposits. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
Biden shields millions of acres of Alaskan wilderness from drilling and mining

The Biden administration expanded federal protections across millions of acres of Alaskan… Continue reading

Allison Gornik plays the lead role of Alice during a rehearsal Saturday of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland,” which will be staged at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé for three days starting Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
An ‘Alice in Wonderland’ that requires quick thinking on and off your feet

Ballet that Juneau Dance Theatre calls its most elaborate production ever opens Friday at JDHS.

Caribou cross through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in their 2012 spring migration. A 211-mile industrial road that the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority wants to build would pass through Gates of the Arctic and other areas used by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, one of the largest in North America. Supporters, including many Alaska political leaders, say the road would provide important economic benefits. Opponents say it would have unacceptable effects on the caribou. (Photo by Zak Richter/National Park Service)
Alaska’s U.S. senators say pending decisions on Ambler road and NPR-A are illegal

Expected decisions by Biden administration oppose mining road, support more North Slope protections.

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 13. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House members propose constitutional amendment to allow public money for private schools

After a court ruling that overturned a key part of Alaska’s education… Continue reading

Danielle Brubaker shops for homeschool materials at the IDEA Homeschool Curriculum Fair in Anchorage on Thursday. A court ruling struck down the part of Alaska law that allows correspondence school families to receive money for such purchases. (Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)
Lawmakers to wait on Alaska Supreme Court as families reel in wake of correspondence ruling

Cash allotments are ‘make or break’ for some families, others plan to limit spending.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, April 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Newly elected tribal leaders are sworn in during the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s 89th annual Tribal Assembly on Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Photo courtesy of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)
New council leaders, citizen of year, emerging leader elected at 89th Tribal Assembly

Tlingit and Haida President Chalyee Éesh Richard Peterson elected unopposed to sixth two-year term.

Most Read