Behavioral healthcare is a rising star in healthcare in terms of growth and demand, and the trend is leading some hospices to invest in the space.
Several considerations motivate their growing interest. On the one hand, addressing the psychosocial and emotional aspects of death and bereavement has been an integral part of the hospice’s mission from the beginning. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has revived the demand for mental health services, contributing to substantial market growth and attracting new investors.
For hospices, behavioral health investments offer an opportunity to expand their mission, diversify revenue streams and capitalize on growing demand, according to Ken Albert, CEO of Androscoggin Home Health Care + Hospice.
“There’s a lot of discussion about how behavioral and physical-medical health models need to be more integrated, and we need to merge them if we’re going to manage chronic disease more effectively,” Albert told Hospice News. “This year, behavioral health was the number one gap in every county in our state. As we look at ongoing health care needs and examine our skill set, it makes sense that we also look at our need to diversify our sources of income for sustainability.
Maine-based Androscoggin acquired behavioral healthcare company Care & Comfort in January for an undisclosed amount. The agreement follows a community health needs assessment that the Internal Revenue Service requires nonprofit hospitals to conduct every two years, which showed more Maine residents need mental health care. than they received, Albert said.
Long-standing social stigma around mental health care is largely dissipating around the world, according to a 2020 survey by the HealthPartners Institute. This has benefited behavioral health providers, as well as many patients who seek their services.
But – as with many trends in health care over the past three years – the effects of the pandemic cannot be ignored.
Globally, depression and anxiety disorders have proliferated during the epidemic, reaching 53.2 million and 76.2 million respectively in 2020 alone, according to a study published in The Lancet.
In addition to the human toll, the rise in demand has brought a flood of investors into the behavioral health field. This included a large contingent of private equity firms as well as strategic buyers, according to Dexter Braff, president of mergers and acquisitions firm The Braff Group, who recently spoke at the Behavioral Health Business INVEST conference in Chicago.
“The expectations of the investment community when COVID started to really put people in the market. They really said, ‘We have to go into space,’” Braff told INVEST. “There are a lot of developments that started to improve behavioral health, but COVID kickstarted that again because more money was coming in and the need for services was definitely going to increase.”
Transaction volume for behavioral health grew 33% in 2021, Hospice News’ sister site Behavioral Health Business reported.
But acquisitions are not the only way for hospices to enter the space. Some, including home care and palliative care provider Visiting Nurse Association Health Group, Inc., develop their programs in-house.
“I can’t determine exactly how people will do this, but I expect more attention and development of mental and behavioral health programs and service lines in the home health and residential care sectors. palliative care,” Landers told Hospice News. “Fundamentally, there are gaps in the needs, and this represents both an opportunity for entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship. I think this will be an area of continued interest.
VNA Health’s behavioral services have been implanted into the organization’s memory and dementia care services, according to Landers.
The provider has enhanced its training programs for its social work and nursing staff, with an emphasis on its home care patients. This included training on how to identify cognitive impairments and when to connect patients with community resources or other providers.
VNS Health is also exploring the possibility of adding advanced practice nurses in psychiatry to their clinical teams. This initiative is in its infancy.
Going forward, the continued trajectory toward an intersection of behavioral health and hospice will be shaped in large measure by the economic and regulatory infrastructure that supports it, Albert told Hospice News.
“It will depend on whether or not we can leverage this cohort of this population and behavioral health across all of our other service lines from a revenue perspective, delivery infrastructure and how we can reduce overall costs across all service lines at a shared services level,” said Albert. “So we can be more efficient across all departments by going to scale more.”
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