published Monday, August 13th, 2012

Hospice proposal faces challenge in the Chattanooga area

Does Chattanooga need another hospice?

The fight over whether the Chattanooga area needs another hospice will continue, with Hospice of Chattanooga filing an appeal to challenge a local doctor's plans to open a new hospice.

In June, the state Health Services and Development Agency board voted 7-3 in favor of allowing Dr. Deanna Duncan to open Hearth LLC.

Hospice of Chattanooga and several other local hospices opposed the certificate of need, saying state guidelines do not show that the Chattanooga area needs another hospice.

In July, Hospice of Chattanooga filed an appeal, asking for an administrative law judge to hear the case.

The process to contest a case can take months and cost tens of thousands of dollars, with the losing party paying those costs, said Jim Christoffersen, general counsel for the Health Services and Development Agency.

"It discourages some of the frivolous appeals," he said.

From the dozens of certificates of need it approves every year, the state agency has four open appeal cases spanning several years, Christoffersen said.

Duncan said she plans to proceed with opening Hearth while the appeal is in progress, saying she is confident a judge will rule in her favor if the case goes forward.

The nonresidential hospice would serve nine Tennessee counties. Duncan estimates it would have about 76 patients the first year and 212 patients the second.

"I'm very surprised that Hospice of Chattanooga chooses to spend money on attorneys rather than patient care to try to fight a local community doctor," Duncan said.

But Garry Mac, spokesman for Hospice of Chattanooga, said it still contends Duncan did not show the need for another hospice.

"Everybody who opposed the hospice felt the decision was quite surprising because it did not meet the state guidelines based on need," Mac said.

Exactly how much hospice care is needed in an area can be difficult to assess, some experts say, especially because both hospice providers and demand for their services have shown dramatic growth in the last decade.

Duncan had argued the Chattanooga area's elderly population is higher than the state average, and the "Guidelines for Growth" formula used by the Health Services and Development Agency is no longer adequate for the area's population.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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