Robin Walters

Robin Walters

Sometimes a comfortable pair of lavender shoes is really all you need. Especially when you’re standing on a trade show floor.

I just got back from my first National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization Management and Leadership Conference (MLC). I was the one with the bright pink ribbon signifying “newbie” status on my nametag. For a business development executive from the hospital/health system part of the universe, the conference was my first professional group meet-up with the individuals who serve as care providers in hospice.

Despite my own personal journey with hospice (we all have one, don’t we?), I came to the conference as an outsider, looking in at the lighted room of hospice care. With my first MLC behind me, I can say that you welcomed this outsider warmly, with great candor, laughter and kindness.

So how does the hospice world compare and contrast with the hospital and health system continuum?

For conference attendees representing hospital-owned hospices, you are a little closer to the sense of panic permeating the C-suite at the hospital/health system level. The overall changes that have hit like a wrecking ball are declining reimbursement and increased regulatory scrutiny. Hospitals have been consolidating through mergers and affiliations in a defensive posture my old boss used to call “circling the wagons.” In the past few years, hospitals have been tasked to do more with less, to move toward a proactive population health model of care, and to accept penalties for re-admissions they often cannot control. In response, executives at community hospitals and small health systems seem to have a sense that it’s safer to be housed under the umbrella of a large health system with either positive cash flow or decent credit reserves. Community hospitals are really struggling, because, to put it in simple terms, their costs are often higher than their volumes.

The rest of the healthcare world might finally be embracing, in a reluctant side-hugging sort of way, the fact that we are in a business. The whole “mission vs. margin” debate that shaped my early days in Catholic healthcare is over. Especially if you take this discourse to the C-suite, whether in hospice or hospital. Now we understand that there is no mission without margin, and while many of us are still here to change the world, our budgets must balance and we must carve out a point of differentiation in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Of course, this is the point where I, as a sales person, mention to you that Transcend Hospice Marketing Group could help your hospice increase length of stay and average daily census, fueling your margins so you can complete your mission. That’s what smart marketing does – it figures out the best bang-for-the-buck ways of reaching consumers of your service or product. It’s a subtle form of raising your hand and saying “pick me.” And it can encompass something as complex as educating consumers on the best options for end-of-life support to much simpler issues, like buying your next pair of shoes.

National Hospice Foundation Gala

National Hospice Foundation Gala

Speaking of shoes, on Friday evening, I hobbled my way over to the lovely gala put on as a fundraiser by the National Hospice Foundation. I passed a woman in the hallway and commented on her lavender footwear, which matched her glorious purple dress to perfection. A bit later I noticed an open chair at her table, and she graciously allowed me to rest my poor feet. It wasn’t until this week that I found out whose table I was actually sitting at. In my hospice-naiveté, I had no idea that the lavender shoe lady was of course Dr. Bernice Catherine Harper, the hospice and healthcare legend.

Dr. Harper’s lovely and simple communication about the importance of a good pair of shoes epitomizes everything that I respect and admire about hospice. Hospice is certainly not about glory, or individual name recognition, but about the beauty (and heartbreak) of complex discussions pared down to the simple, yet most important things– the relief from pain and the comfort of your favorite lavender shoes. But I think back now on how much fuller our conversation could have been if I had recognized Dr. Harper for what a great and inspiring person she really is.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I wonder about organizational name recognition for hospice providers. Our firm has interviewed more than 10,000 family healthcare decision makers. The majority of them could not correctly name a single hospice provider in their marketplace. How can you have a meaningful discussion with these consumers about their end-of-life decisions if they don’t recognize you for the good work you’re accomplishing every day? While I enjoyed discussing those cool lavender shoes with Dr. Harper, maybe we could have schemed up a way to help fix the snarled mess that is healthcare, instead of talking about my cheap shoes and sore feet.

Is your hospice missing important conversations with potential consumers of your services?

The decisions you make in your hospice, no matter how simple, are going to have increasingly far-reaching effects on your very ability to survive as a business in the tumultuous arena of American healthcare. The entire paradigm is shifting and the independent, free-standing hospice organization is feeling the ground move. The strategic conversations you have now about revenue, ROI and market share are going to help you succeed or fail as a business. I would like to personally invite you to sit at the Transcend table, take off your shoes and have that first conversation with us.