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Patients find new caregivers after hospice closes unexpectedly

Passages Hospice Illinois has closed its doors, but Sauk Valley-area patients have not been left in a lurch.

Most, if not all, have found new hospice agencies, thanks in large part to local Passages employees who worked "tirelessly" all last week, "with relative certainty we weren't going to get paid Friday."

That's according to the Rev. Roger Carlson, a Passages employee since 2011.

The Lisle-based for-profit hospice care provider, which serves most of Illinois and small parts of three other states, closed abruptly Friday, weeks after its founder was charged with federal health care fraud. The closing came despite assurances in a statement last month that "as a company, we are continuing to move forward and our services will not be interrupted."

Passages Hospice provided nursing homes with nurses, aides, social workers and chaplains. It also was known for offering "make-a-wish"-type experiences for its end-of-life patients.

Carlson, of Rock Falls, officiated at his last funeral for a Passages patient Monday afternoon. He had worked for the hospice company since 2011, counseling patients and families and officiating at funerals when requested.

There were about 20 Passages employees working in the Sauk Valley, Carlson said. Until they got a separation letter Friday, none knew for sure they were about to be jobless, although none had been paid since Feb. 7, and they lost their prescription and medical coverage a week later, he said.

Rumor was that, although Passages was closing, the company was being bought and their jobs would continue, he said. That didn't happen.

Carlson said he was luckier than most. In addition to being pastor of Berean Baptist Church of Rock Falls, he's also a paid on-call firefighter for the Rock Falls Fire Department, and a fire department chaplain.

While the job loss "is definitely making a huge impact on our family, there's also a lot of single parents who worked with Pasages, a lot of people down to their last $5 or $10 now," he said. "It's left a lot of us left in pretty rough shape."

He's proud of the work his fellow employees did last week, working night and day to find other providers for their patients.

The need for the transition was "disheartening and disruptive, but it probably went as smoothly as it could have" because many of the nurses, mid-level managers and others who worked tirelessly to make sure everything went as smoothly as possible, he said.

In Oregon, Serenity Hospice and Home has received five Passages patients, a more than manageable number, Administrator Lynn Knodle said Monday.

"We get five patients in a day under normal circumstances," she said.

Others went to Vitas, Hospice of the Rock River Valley, and other local agencies, Carlson said.

Sauk Valley Media's calls to Passages headquarters were not answered Monday; messages could not be left because the voice mailbox was full.

According to the Belleville News-Democrat, an employee at Passages Hospice corporate headquarters in Lisle confirmed that she and all 330 of the company's employees were issued letters Friday stating that the company was eliminating all workers. The letter also stated that workers were not being paid for the past 4 weeks of work because the business' Medicare payments had been frozen.

On Jan. 24, Passages Hospice LLC founder and co-owner Seth Gillman, 46, of Lincolnwood, was charged with health care fraud and obstructing a federal audit. The newspaper could not reach Gillman for comment Friday, and Passages public relations and media specialist Kamie Freeland declined to comment.

On Jan. 30, the company issued a statement noting that the charges had been leveled against Gilman, who it said was a one-quarter owner of the company, and not against Passages.

The statement further noted that "the allegations included that a higher level of medical service was provided to patients when, in the government's view, the higher level of medical service was unnecessary. The complaint does not allege that patients in our hospice program did not receive compassionate quality hospice care."

Carlson echoed that sentiment.

"I enjoyed the work I did," he said. "I enjoyed the people I worked with. We gave great frontline care. Our care was superb.

"We [the employees] were really ethical people. What was going on on the other end was completely out of our control. We're just trying to move forward as best we can.

"The Lord will take care of us."

MCT Information Services contributed to this report.

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