Marcum Industry Spotlight: Todd Stern
Todd Stern is a stand-out executive in the hospice community, who is known for his innovative ideas and intense passion for supporting his staff so they can put patients and families first. Currently, Todd serves as chief executive officer of Seasons Healthcare Management, which oversees the 29 Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care locations in the U.S. Todd joined Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care in 2001 as the organization’s chief financial officer and managing principal and was appointed CEO in 2005.
Thanks to his family’s background in healthcare, Todd grew up with a desire to help others and a passion for providing care to those who need it most. He also enjoys the challenges that come with running a growing organization. Seasons makes perfect sense for Todd, combining his business acumen with his passion for serving others.
Todd is a former member of both the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s (NHPCO) Public Policy Committee and the Hospice Action Network (HAN) Board, and he remains highly supportive and active within hospice advocacy. With Todd’s support, Seasons leaders represent and serve on nearly every NHPCO and HAN committee and both respective boards of directors. Under Todd’s leadership, Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care has grown to become one of the largest privately held hospice and palliative care providers in the nation.
Marcum had the chance to sit down with Todd to talk about the growing changes in the hospice industry and what Seasons is doing to ensure patients get the best care at end-of-life without sacrificing quality and regulatory compliance.
Marcum: Can you tell us the story of Seasons? How has the company evolved since you opened in 1997?
Todd: Seasons was started when the hospice community was still struggling to find acceptance among dying Americans. A group of hospice professionals from varying organizations came together and decided they wanted to start a hospice company that did things differently. They took the good practices they saw at previous institutions and brought them to Seasons, while eliminating the bad.
As a result, Seasons was started as a highly mission-driven and patient- and family-focused organization. Over time, we took the “hospice recipe” we started in the Chicagoland area to new communities. Twenty-two years later, we find ourselves with 29 locations in 19 states from coast to coast.
Marcum: What changes do you see in the post-acute healthcare space and how is Seasons approaching them?
Todd: We are watching many different changes occur, most of which are driving a consistent message of increased quality from the healthcare provider while doing it all at a decreased cost. We’re always looking at ways to leverage holistic hospice care to help those we partner with in the continuum meet these goals, and we’re in a unique position to help them do so. Hospice care helps manage pain and symptoms for those at end-of-life, reducing re-hospitalization rates while producing better outcomes and satisfaction for our patients and their families.
The beautiful thing about hospice is that it is a value-based service that is embraced and accepted by patients and families. Hospice excels at supporting the continuum and can also be part of a health system or ACO value-based strategy without either of us having to compromise on care, quality or sustainability.
We can deliver excellent care to patients and families and value to our payor, and align our goals and objectives with our continuum-of-care partners. It’s a win for everyone involved, especially the patient.
Marcum: We know you’ve invested heavily in technology as a company. Can you talk through that a little bit?
Todd: Being that we’re a decentralized provider that delivers most of our care out in the community, technology is essential. Fifteen years ago, we were one of the earliest adopters of an electronic medical record in the hospice community, with the goal of providing the highest quality compliant care.
Between the electronic medical record and HIPAA-compliant devices for all frontline staff, we ensure that each staff member is up-to-date on the status of our patients, to provide the best and most timely care.
While hospice regulations and HIPAA laws often lag behind new innovation, we do everything we can to leverage advancements in technology within those limitations to better network our employees and support our patients.
Marcum: Seasons is an industry leader in providing care to complex, high-acuity patients. How do you work to support these individuals and their families?
Todd: From the time that Seasons started, we set out to be not only a high-touch end-of-life provider, but a high-tech end-of-life provider. To achieve that, we make sure that we have nurses and clinicians who are comfortable and competent in delivering complex care to those who dying. Advanced training and understanding of these complex clinical needs allow us to take on high-acuity patients that some providers historically have not been willing to accept.
Besides our highly trained staff, we have a clinical call center that is staffed 24/7 by nurses licensed in every state we serve. They have full access to the Electronic Medical Record for every patient in the country we’re serving and can send out an on-call employee if they can’t resolve the issue for our patient over the phone.
Nationally, our patients’ length of stay is shorter than average, so there isn’t always time for them or their loved ones to come to terms with their death and make preparations. To help meet this psychosocial need, our team members also are armed and ready with toolkits to create legacy projects for our patients and their families. These legacy projects help to emotionally prepare both the patient and their loved ones for the impending death. It can be something as simple as a close-up photo of the patient and their family holding hands, to a full life review and family history. But the point is to help make meaningful moments for these patients while they still have time.
Marcum: How do you view the recent moves by CMS and other payors to change the healthcare system from fee-for-service to fee-for-value? How do you see Seasons fitting into that?
Hospice was one of the first Medicare benefits to be value-based. We receive a capitated reimbursement, and so this is something we’re already used to. In fact, I’d go as far as saying we’re fond of it because we believe hospice fits well into the direction of value-based care. For us this is an exciting time. It’s an opportunity for us to engage with others in the continuum of care as a solution and partner. We bring our 22 years of experience into every discussion we have with our continuum of care partners, who all have their unique paths and visions for how to embrace these principals.
For our frontline staff it’s not a shift in what we do, it’s a shift in how we package the amazing skills and coordinate with our continuum of care partners. The essence of what we do is already value-based and high-quality care with the lowest cost at the end of life. Now it’s a matter of making sure we engage, communicate and connect with the continuum of care that works best for them to access what we already deliver on the ground.