Hospice given offers of help; rails at under-funding

Offers of more fund-raising support from the community were welcomed by the Otago Community Hospice yesterday, but the inadequate level of government funding would be an ongoing issue, chief executive Ginny Green said.

Several offers of support followed an announcement on Monday the hospice would be closing four beds and day respite care services, as it faces a $300,000 deficit going into the next financial year.

Government funding, given through the Otago District Health Board, had not kept pace with increasing wage costs and rising patient numbers at the hospice, and the shortfall raised by the community was already more than $1 million, Ms Green said.

If the community did rally to raise the $300,000 deficit, the board would have to carefully consider the next step, as the following year it would likely be in the same situation with a $500,000 deficit, she said.

"The fundamental issue is that government is not funding us appropriately and the community has already contributed so much."

Hospice New Zealand chief executive Mary Schumacher said nationally some hospices were facing deficits, but she was not aware of any others that had been forced to close services.

The total budgeted national cost for running hospices was $72 million for the next financial year.

Budgeted district health board funding was $36 million, which meant communities would be fund-raising the other half.

"That is the nature of the shortfall. It's huge.

"There is only so much a community can be expected to fund-raise for what is essentially a core health service."

The ongoing nature of the deficits created challenges in terms of managing services and long-term planning, Ms Schumacher said.

The national organisation is lobbying to get government funding increased to cover about 75% of costs.

The Otago hospice says only 48% of its operating expenses are funded.

However, the hospice does provide some services, such as the day respite care service, which are not contracted by the district health board.

Ms Green said about 400 terminally ill people were referred to the hospice last year, and it had delivered services to at least 100 more than it was contracted to provide.



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