Hospice bill sitting on W.Va. Governor's desk

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Dealing with the death of a loved one is always a difficult time for families.

For many people, they spend their last days in hospice care.

In West Virginia, there are 20 Hospice care providers with 7 different hospice houses.

Each day, workers try to help families and patients through one of the most difficult times in life.

"We work with staff to make sure that patients are moved smoothly into the next life, making sure they are comfortable, happy and confident, even in that horrible situation," said Melanie Hall, the President of Hospice of Huntington.

But Hall says in order to keep offering that level of care for patients, it is crucial Governor Jim Justice sign Senate Bill 537.

The bill passed through both the House and Senate and is now awaiting a decision from the governor.

It would establish an 18-member group, made up of experts from across the state, that would review the state's current hospice standards.

The group would look at the current and future needs of hospice care and determine how the state's hospice standards should be changed.

It would also freeze hospice standards as they were on January 1, 2018, until changes could be considered.

Last year, the Health Care Authority updated the standards it uses to grant 'Certificates of Need' for hospice services. Most of those changes were approved.

However, according to Hall, there was one change that was left open--the possibility that additional providers could come in to serve each county, which she says could lead to an explosion of hospice providers in the state.

She says essentially that would take away 'Certificates of Need' in the state, which are needed to add or expand health care services.

According to the West Virginia Healthcare Authority, "The advantage of CON programs to the public is that they encourage accountability by providing an avenue for public comment, discourage or limit unnecessary services, and promote community planning. In West Virginia, the CON program offers some protection for small, often financially fragile, rural hospitals and the underinsured population they serve."

"Would it provide more opportunities numerically for the number of providers who are providing service? Yes," said Hall. "Does it necessarily provide more opportunities that are of equal quality and of equal opportunity for everybody in the state? No. The argument has to be thought further than, there are more people at the table so there is more opportunity. But more opportunity for who and more opportunity for what? I think we have to be very careful as we are looking at healthcare and as we are looking at how we are moving forward that we are not eroding the base of our healthcare system so that we can keep building and moving forward."

Hospice services are available in every county in West Virginia. Some counties are served by more than one hospice.

"Our population is aging," said Hall. "We need to make sure moving forward that our services are in West Virginia, they stay in West Virginia and that our care is of the highest quality."

The governor has until March 27 to sign or veto the bill.

If it is signed into law, the 18-member group would conduct public hearings. A final report would then be due on September 30 and then the Health Care Authority would have until December 1 to consider changing the standards and then present those changes to the legislature.

"We are very much for moving West Virginia forward, but you have to make sure you are bringing every West Virginian with you and not just a few," said Hall. "It is critical that all stakeholders come to the table to discuss accurate data collection, review data, research standards and make decisions based on sound data which will be beneficial for all West Virginians."

To see the full bill, click here.