Opponents of the sale of Alive Hospice host a press conference across the street from the hospice's headquarters. Credit: Nashville Banner

At a Tuesday press conference across the street from Alive Hospice in Midtown, a coalition of former Alive board chairs, founders, staff and volunteers announced their opposition to the sale of the nonprofit hospice to a for-profit entity.

The group, called Keep Alive Alive, also filed a complaint with the Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office.

“The complaint is seeking information about what is transpiring at Alive Hospice and whether such activity is in the public interest,” said Liz Schatzlein, a former board chair. “Alive Hospice is not only Middle Tennessee’s only nonprofit hospice, it is also the only residential hospice in this area, the only hospice that provides charity care and the only hospice that provides pediatric end-of-life care. We feel these services plus Alive’s 50-year culture of caring will be jeopardized or ended under such a sale.”

As the Banner first noted two weeks ago, Alive founders David and Lynn Barton took concerns about a potential sale to current CEO Kimberly Goesselle, who told them, “I guess the rumors have gotten out there.” Advisory board members who asked to meet with the board of directors to discuss the sale were met with demands to sign non-disclosure agreements. All advisory board members declined to sign and the meeting was canceled. 

The coalition is collecting public concerns to convey to Skrmetti, who has review power over any sale. Schatzlein said the group is collecting petition signatures and comments to forward to the AG’s office.

Heather Wills, a registered nurse who works at Alive, signed the complaint. She echoed the complaints of health care workers in a RAND study published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association that says patient care in nonprofit hospices exceeds that in for-profit care.

“We take care of patients that have hours to days left in their life, and for-profit hospices tend to not want to admit such patients to their rolls,” Wills said. “They’re more interested in admitting patients that have a longer lifespan so they can bill Medicare for more money. This is more like an intensive care unit for the dying. And so if our unit were to shut down, over 100 patients per month would die of extreme pain, shortness of breath, agitation. So what we do is care for the very least of these in extreme symptoms of dying and give a lot of education to the families and loved ones as they see their patients and their loved ones.”

The potential buyer was identified as publicly traded home health firm Amedisys, which is co-based in Louisiana and the Nashville area and is in the process of being acquired by Option Health Care in a deal valued at $3.6 billion. 

Mary Falls, another former board chair and recently a senior adviser to Mayor John Cooper, said that the savings generated by cheaper care would go to the shareholders of the new company and the “generous compensation packages” of Amedisys executives.

“The story is that the quality of care is demonstrably worse at for-profit hospices,” Falls said. “How do we know that? The buyer in question in this case, has to file [this] in their SEC filings annually. In the filings that they provide, they tell us how much they spend on patient care.” Falls asserted that Amedisys was paid $160 per patient per day by the federal government, but spent only $80.

Falls said that the buyer was confirmed by “four different sources” including one staff member and current members of the Alive board of directors. She also said that current board members confirmed that Alive has only approached for-profit buyers and not Ascension, Vanderbilt or another nonprofit organization.

Attempts to reach a representative from Amedisys were unsuccessful before publication.

Barton noted that Alive was founded intentionally as a nonprofit 50 years ago. Falls called for the resignation of board members who did not want the organization to continue as a nonprofit.

“This board needs to step up and do their fiduciary duty and serve the people of this community, as they were tasked to do when they joined the board,” Falls said. “If they don’t feel like they can serve that duty, they need to not be on this board.”

An animated Schatzlein pointed across the street to the Alive offices. 

“Alive Hospice was the third hospice founded in the United States,” she said. “It has been a jewel in this community, a gem. And if these people back here sell out this asset of Middle Tennessee’s, it is a travesty. And that is the only word for it. It is a travesty. Please, please, I am begging the board: Do not do this.”

Steve is a three-decade veteran of newspapers, working around the country at places like the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune before returning home to Nashville in 2011 to edit The City Paper and Nashville...