Bristlecone faces hard times |

Bristlecone faces hard times

Andy Stonehouse
Summit Daily/Kara K. PearsonMillicient Plant, a volunteer at Bristlecone Home Care and Hospice Inc., in Frisco, thumbs through files Tuesday afternoon. Plant has been a volunteer with Bristlecone for five years. Today, the organization faces an uncertain economic future.

FRISCO – With the advent of ski season and the swirl of holiday time in the High Country, organizations that rely on the good graces of the money-giving public have found it harder and harder to remain in the charitable spotlight.

For Frisco-based Bristlecone Health Services, an organization that has provided home care, hospice and counseling to Summit County residents for 22 years, this winter season has brought some particularly tough times.

Noreen Galaba, Bristlecone’s director of clinical services, said the combination of changes to Medicaid, increased restraint on the part of insurance companies and the recent downturn in the economy have resulted in a somewhat perilous position for an organization that is the only one of its kind in Summit County.

“Our biggest problem is that we’re reimbursed less by Medicaid than it actually costs to provide our services,” Galaba said. “Last year’s Medicaid cuts were particularly bad. And since Medicaid still only provides 60 percent of what we have to pay, it’s become more difficult. Those cuts are even harder since they’ve never really addressed the cost of living up here.”

With an annual budget of approximately $800,000, Bristlecone survives on the good graces of donors and grants to help make up what Medicaid and Medicare can’t provide. But it never seems to match the organization’s rising costs, Galaba said.

“We do a lot of fundraisers, and we’re constantly writing for community and private grants, all in an attempt to make up what we’ve experienced through a loss in private donations. And we just don’t to the volume that an agency in Denver would do, so our costs per patient remain high. Add to that the fact that we’re in the middle of what is typically a lean time of year and we’re facing some issues.”

Over the years, Bristlecone has expanded its areas of expertise to include a full family of services that aren’t duplicated by any other Summit-based health-care provider.

When Bristlecone was founded in the early 1980s, the organization was simply a volunteer-run hospice – providing at-home care and pain management to terminally ill patients, something it continues to do. The group’s mandate has broadened considerably in recent years, and now nearly 95 percent of its caseload is home-care for both adult and pediatric patients.

Bristlecone also administers the Mountain Meal program, a meals-on-wheels-style service that provides food to shut-ins and the elderly. It also runs a bereavement counselling program, offering individual and group therapy to those who’ve experienced loss of some kind in their lives.

Shelly Michell, director of business operations, said Bristlecone’s caseload has more than doubled in the six years she’s been involved with the organization.

“I was initially dealing with about 35 patients, and now we’re sometimes up to 70 or more, of which more than 50 percent are pediatric cases,” Michell said. “Some of those are babies who are preemies with developmental disabilities, so we’ve had to meet special needs like providing oxygen, antibiotics and IVs. And I can see our caseload doubling with the construction of a local hospital and the continued growth of the community.

“We’ve seen an overall increase in the number of seniors in the community; with a hospital, I think a lot more seniors will be more inclined to stay up here, and we’ll also have more people to serve.”

Bristlecone’s staff of health-care and hospice workers now numbers more than 25 people, most of whom work part-time. Michell said the growth continues to put more strain on healthcare workers.

“Being a nonprofit organization in this day and age means that we’re struggling financially,” Michell said. “So we believe that some education in the community as to what we actually do will help Bristlecone – I know that a lot of people think we’re just a hospice and nothing else.”

November has been national hospice and home-care month across the country; both Michell and Galaba are hoping the enhanced focus on the national home-care field will help people remember to help out here at home.

“If Bristlecone disappears, people will be forced to go to Denver for medical services or end up in Denver-area nursing homes,” Galaba says. “We just want everyone to know that we provide a vital medical service that Summit County simply can’t live without.”

Bristlecone is in the midst of its Tree of Memories tree ornament fundraising program, selling handcrafted memorial ornaments through its office at 60 Main St. Ornaments will be on sale through Dec. 31; the Tree of Memories will be lit at Frisco Town Hall during a ceremony on Dec. 31.

For more information on Bristlecone Health Services, contact the office at (970) 668-5604.

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