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Hospice hurting from federal cuts

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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The Brunswick County Hospice and Life Care Center will celebrate its one year anniversary at its new location this month. But instead of a high level of excitement, there's a high level of concern -- the new move to put the county in the Myrtle Beach metro area could impact federal money for some hospice programs.

Officials say if Brunswick County remains in the Myrtle Beach metropolitan statistical area, then the hospice house like the one in Bolivia could lose up to $220,000 per year, forcing officials to cut back services that a lot of people rely on daily.

The hospice center serves more than 120 patients in Brunswick County alone every day, in addition to maintaining its new seven-bed care center.

Hospice services are paid for, in large part by a federal per diem rate, which means they are only given a daily allowance for expenses from the federal government.

From that rate, they are responsible for covering all patient care related to a terminal illness including physician visits, nursing care, medical equipment, and much more.

The cut in funding from the M.S.A. change could hurt their ability to offer the depth of services that patients and their families have come to expect.

These aren't the first cuts that hospices are dealing with -- the sequestration slashed their income by two percent, plus they're facing a two percent productivity cut from the Health Care Act.

On top of that, they're in the middle of a seven-year phase out of their budget.

Laurie Bystrom is the President and CEO of the Lower Cape Fear Hospice and Life Care Center.

She's been sending letters to county leaders as well as state lawmakers urging for help.

"So many people have been served by hospice and they know what kind of care we give," said Bystrom. "You get to a point where there's only so much you can cut. We don't want to have to cut services but we will find a way to continue to provide quality care for patients and their families."

But time is ticking. New rates go into effect starting October 1.

The Brunswick County manager has placed a resolution on the next county commissioner's agenda to start a new petition -- fighting to move Brunswick County back into the Wilmington M.S.A.

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