‘They’re Calling Us Up, Asking for Help’: How Health System Struggles Factored into the AccentCare-Seasons Merger

The coronavirus didn’t directly lead to the recently announced merger between AccentCare Inc. and Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care, but it played a pretty prominent role.

On Monday, Dallas-based AccentCare and Rosemont, Illinois-based Seasons revealed they’ll soon join forces to create a new post-acute care powerhouse. While the decision to merge made sense due to the companies’ similar geographic footprints, their complimentary services and a variety of other reasons, it was also a strategic response to the changing needs of the U.S. health care system.

“I think there are a few overlying trends that are taking place in the marketplace that we’ll … be better positioned to take advantage of,” AccentCare CEO Steve Rodgers told Home Health Care News.

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Since the start of November, the United States has had more than 2 million new coronavirus infections, bringing the nation’s grand total to more than 11 million cases since spring. Health systems and hospitals are once again nearing a breaking point, with many already at max capacity or stretched dangerously thin on the staffing front.

In fact, just a day before AccentCare and Seasons unveiled their merger plans, Rodgers was on the phone with the COO of a major health system in the Upper Midwest. During the call, the health system executive noted how one of its hospitals had dozens of incoming COVID-19 patients at a time when 35 ICU nurses were out because of community-related coronavirus exposure.

“They’ve got about 35 to 40 patients they need to get out of the hospital that they’re asking for help with,” Rodgers said.

To extend capacity and redirect patients, more and more health systems are turning to in-home care providers like AccentCare, Seasons and others. Their pursuit of innovative home-based care models started to pick up in 2019, but it has since intensified due to the coronavirus.

For proof, one need only look at the several hospital-at-home programs that have popped up over the past eight months, with the latest example being Quincy Medical Group in Illinois, which has its own program in the works. “A number of” health systems have specifically asked AccentCare to accelerate their hospital-at-home activities, Rodgers confirmed.

“[COVID] has elevated the complexity of the patients coming out of the health systems,” he said. “And what you need is a greater and a wider breadth of capability to be able to take care of those patients.”

Alone, AccentCare and Seasons were already two of the biggest post-acute care players in the home health and hospice spaces, with each delivering a wide range of services. Together, though, they’ll be better able to care for those high-acuity patients coming from their health system partners.

The two companies expect to finalize their merger before the end of 2020, pending regulatory approval. Once they do, the combined enterprise will offer home health, hospice and personal care services across 225 sites of care in 26 states, employing nearly 30,000 workers.

Overall, the AccentCare-Seasons combination will have more than 60 partnerships with health systems and physician practices, collectively providing care to more than 175,000 patients and families annually.

“Health systems are beginning to feel it,” Rodgers said. “And they’re calling us up, asking for help.”

Moving forward, in-home care providers with a breadth and depth of services will be best positioned for hospital-at-home models and similar opportunities related to shifting care away from acute settings. In all likelihood, the merger between AccentCare and Seasons will be followed by even more industry-shaping deals to come, with technology also factoring into the equation.

“The other thing that you’re going to continue to see is just an acceleration of technology into the home,” Rodgers said. “If you’re a larger organization, you’re more able to make the investments in the technology and the services that you can use to support your strategic partners out there.”

In addition to strengthening its ability to take on complex patients from acute settings, AccentCare’s merger with Seasons gives it newfound access to physician services, another advantage in today’s health care ecosystem.

“One of the more difficult areas for us to coordinate is physician services,” Rodgers said. “Seasons brings a very advanced medical group practice in each state they do business in. Although that practice is very hospice-focused now, we see it as an opportunity to be able to expand our capabilities into more complex populations, to supplement the community-based physician services that are available.”

Internally, AccentCare is beginning to once again feel the impact of the COVID-19 virus across some of its markets, particularly around staffing. The company — backed by private equity firm Advent International — currently operates across more than 179 locations in 17 states.

It was among the very first home health providers to speak publicly about the coronavirus and its response strategy.

“We’re beginning to see pickup in a number of marketplaces, especially with those that have positive diagnoses above 50 per 100,000, or 100 per 100,000,” Rodgers said. “You’re seeing an increase in employee absenteeism associated with positive cases out there.”

Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care is also feeling the effects of the current surge, CEO Todd Stern told HHCN. Continued access to patients in facility-based settings has been one specific challenge, he noted.

“We’re seeing a little bit more of the restricted access,” Stern said. “But the demand continues to be there.”

Seasons offers end-of-life care services to more than 30,000 patients a year, with operations spanning 19 states and 31 Medicare-certified programs.

“There’s no shortage of need for our services,” Stern said. “It’s quite the opposite.”

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