On Monday, the Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice of the Florida Keys announced its decision to pull out of Monroe County.
“It has been our honor and privilege to provide comfort, care and compassion to the residents and visitors of Monroe County since 1984. It is with deep regret that we have made the difficult decision to close VNA/HFK by February 28, 2018, due to continued financial stresses greatly worsened by the impact of Hurricane Irma,” the agency said in a prepared release.
There are two other for-profit hospice agencies that provide service in some parts of Monroe County, both headquartered on the mainland. Some hospitals also set aside beds for hospice care which is provided in the facility.
“The loss of these services is a significant diminution of health care in the Lower Keys,” said Dr. Bruce Boros, a retired Keys physician. “Patient and family needs during the final stage of life are tremendously stressful, requiring well-educated, loving and caring professionals to ease the burden for all. Indeed we have lost a very important and excellent service that may not return for awhile, if at all in the near future.”
There are, however, five smaller private for-profit agencies in the Keys that offer home health care and/or hospice care. They are VITAS, Kindred Hospice, AHC Home Care and Giswold Home Care. Only Island Home Care, owned by Kim Wilkerson, is headquartered in the Keys and only provides service from Key West to Big Pine Key.
“We need hospice care. Without it, we are missing a vital component,” Wilkerson said. “A well-run hospice is invaluable to the community.”
According to Patricia Vernon, a spokeswoman for Haven Hospice, who partnered with VNA/HFK about two years ago, the agency currently has 20 hospice and 11 home health patients in Monroe County.
“We are working with other agencies to transfer patients,” she said.
Island Home Care, by comparison, has almost 150 patients divided into home health care and private duty categories. It employs 18 full-time and about 20 part-time residents of the Florida Keys. Wilkerson said that while she can care for a patient up until his or her death, it’s defined as palliative care and the methods involved are different. For example, the patient’s personal doctor would prescribe medication rather than an agency employee.
VNA/HFK employs 10 full-time employees and 12 part-time employees. All of the associates have been offered severance pay and job opportunities at the headquarters in Gainesville and elsewhere in North Florida.
The VNA/HFK press release also said that generous donor gifts that have not already been spent will be returned after assets are liquidated and debts paid.