September 26, 2022

North-Carolina based AMOREM is building a new inpatient hospice care unit in the Blue Ridge Mountain region. The move is in response to a rising need for these services among rural-based patients and families. 

The new seven-bed inpatient unit will be in a 9,000-square-foot facility located in the High Country area of North Carolina. Each private patient room will feature an outdoor patio.

The company in March received a $1.5 million grant towards construction of the new unit from the SECU Foundation, naming the facility the AMOREM SECU Patient Care Unit of the High Country.

“The High Country deserves a patient care unit, and the need is evident,” said AMOREM CEO Cathy Swanson in a company announcement. “AMOREM is extremely grateful to the SECU Foundation for helping make this possible. This patient care unit will have a lasting impact on the community and make a difference in the lives of the patients and families that we serve in the High Country.”

AMOREM originated from last year’s merger of Burke Hospice & Palliative Care and Caldwell Hospice and Palliative Care. The combined company rebranded as AMOREM, with Caldwell CEO Cathy Swanson leading the new organization.

The new inpatient unit will expand the company’s reach across three of the 12 counties in its North Carolina service region.

The new center is located in an area in which more than a quarter of hospice patients died in the hospital, according to Brittany Bonn, director of development at AMOREM.

Moreover, travel was often difficult in the region’s mountainous terrain, making it difficult for families to access their hospitalized loved ones, Bonn said. These two factors signaled a need for additional hospice inpatient care closer to home.

“Last year in the High Country, a little more than 25% of hospice patients passed away in the hospital,” said Bonn in local news. “Down the mountain where we have patient care units, only 6% died in the hospital. For family members to have to drive up and down the mountain to see their loved ones during their last days it is an unnecessary burden if we have the same facilities up here.”

As of November last year, AMOREM served more than 1,200 patients in the High Country area alone, according to Bonn, who indicated that the company continues to expand.

Hospice utilization among Medicare descendants in North Carolina reached 49.6% during 2018, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. This falls in line with the nationwide average of 50.3% that year.

Similar to national trends, an increasing aging population is driving demand for hospice care in the Tar Heel State.

Currently, seniors 65 and older represent 16.7% of the state’s overall population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This aging population is projected to swell 52% to 2.7 million during the next two decades, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported.

In North Carolina and nationwide, hospice providers in rural areas encounter unique obstacles. Some of these include unpredictable access to patient homes due to weather, topographical features, poorly maintained roads, and long distances between homes.

“In their final days, the vast majority of the patients don’t need all of the resources in a hospital, but that is what they are paying for. A free-standing patient care unit provides many advantages,” said Bonn. “Our goal is to keep the patient comfortable, in the place of their choice, support their families, and help them have the highest quality of life they can possibly have in the days they have remaining.”

Industry-wide labor shortages also complicate care delivery in rural areas, mainly because clinicians often have to cover long distances to visit patients.

AMOREM earlier this year temporarily consolidated two of its existing inpatient care units in the towns of Valdese and Lenoir into one single facility due to those labor pressures. Patients in those facilities were transferred to Forlines. The 12-bed Forlines inpatient facility is available to all patients who need such services in the organization’s service area, AMOREM previously told Hospice News.

The company now aims to open three similar hospice inpatient care units in the High Country area, each also featuring a large community meeting room.

Thus far, AMOREM has raised roughly $3 million to date in a capital campaign to finance the inpatient care units, aiming for a total of $8 million, according to Kerri McFalls, vice president of community engagement at AMOREM.

“For our most recent facility, we were able to move debt-free after raising all of the construction costs in advance,” Bonn told local news. “That is our goal for the one in Boone, too.”