Medicare has decertified Wallowa County's hospice program for dying patients because of lack of such required services as occupational therapy and a volunteer hospice group.

Dave Harman, chief executive officer of Wallowa Valley Health Care District, made the announcement of the Tuesday, Sept. 23, decertification "with regret."

He emphasized that three current hospice patients, as well as future patients, will continued to be served through the Home Health Department, under which the hospice program operated.

The decertification followed three inspections, the first of which took place June 23-25.

Harman noted that hospice is a comprehensive program that entails many services, including as speech therapy, occupational therapy, social work, volunteers and others.

"Through the years and for a number of reasons, our hospice program's focus has been gradually reduced to nursing services, for the most part," Harman said. "Our hospice manager, Nora Stangel, and her staff made a great effort to reestablish these other services, but it was not sufficient to maintain our certification."

The administrator said that the first inspection also uncovered documentation issues, but added that those have since been corrected.

Harman said that the same small staff worked for home health as for hospice and the decertification probably won't make a great change in staffing.

"At this point we need to reassess our options," Harman said. The possibilities include using Home Health to provide services near the previous hospice program level, or to try to develop all of the other services necessary and reapply for certification as a hospice provider.

Harman said local families have raved about the care their loved ones have received from the hospice staff. "We've never had a complaint," he said.

Harman estimates that Wallowa County has been serving 20 to 30 hospice patients a year. Although far from big-city size, he noted, the program's standards are identical to those with 10 times more patients.

"We appreciate the community's support and will do our best in assessing the needs of the community and providing appropriate patient services," Harman said.

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