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Samaritan Health Services is exiting the home health care business effective March 1. Wilsonville-based Signature Healthcare at Home will be picking up patients who do not choose to switch providers and will be offering jobs to Samaritan employees.

Citing financial challenges, Samaritan Health Services is getting out of the home health care business.

“Although the need for home health services continues to grow, we are seeing a steady decline in reimbursement,” Samaritan President and CEO Doug Boysen said in a prepared statement announcing the move.

“It is also a challenge to recruit and retain the specialized workforce needed,” he added. “In addition, the size and scope of our three-county service area requires significant staff travel time and prevents us from leveraging economies of scale. The result of all these factors is annual financial losses over multiple years, with no indication that the situation will improve.”

With an estimated 400 patients in Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties, Samaritan is believed to be the largest provider of home health services in the region. To ensure continuity of care, Samaritan has partnered with Signature Healthcare at Home, a Wilsonville company that specializes in home health care.

Patients will have the opportunity to continue receiving services through Signature, or they can switch to one of several other providers operating in the mid-valley. Employees can apply for new jobs with Signature or other positions within Samaritan.

Home health care covers a wide variety of services, from assistance with bathing and grooming to medication management, physical therapy and skilled nursing care. It may or may not be covered by insurance, depending on individual circumstances.

Patients and employees were notified Jan. 25 of the transition, which is scheduled to be completed March 1.

The move will impact 54 Samaritan home health workers in Linn and Benton counties, according to Julie Manning, a company vice president. It will also affect another 40 or so employees in Lincoln County, where Samaritan provides both home health and hospice services through a single entity, she added. Home health accounts there will be handed off to Signature, while the hospice services will be rolled into Samaritan’s Evergreen Hospice division.

Manning said Samaritan’s partnership with Signature was intended to provide a structured transition for patients, especially in areas where Samaritan is currently the only service provider.

“Patients have a choice,” Manning said. “In the valley there are other options, but at the coast there are not.”

Based in Corvallis, Samaritan Health Services employs more than 5,000 people and has annual revenues of about $500 million. The nonprofit corporation owns three hospitals in Corvallis, Albany and Lebanon and operates two publicly owned hospitals in Newport and Lincoln City. It also owns and operates physician clinics, insurance plans, fitness centers and other businesses.

While home health care may be a financial drain on a broad-based health care network such as Samaritan, it’s seen as a business opportunity by Signature, which specializes in that particular market niche and is already serving patients in the area, said Mary Kofstad, the Wilsonville company’s president.

“When this opportunity came up, things fell into place and it really seemed like the right move,” Kofstad said.

Signature, an affiliate of the Avamere group of companies, has 1,100 employees in Oregon, Washington, Utah and Idaho.

Kofstad said her firm didn’t have any specific numerical targets for hiring ex-Samaritan employees.

“We are intending to hire as many as we can,” she said. “It’s very important to have that continuity of care to get the best outcomes for patients and families.”

Kofstad said pay rates would be based on experience, geography and other market factors.

Samaritan said employees who were out of work after the March 1 transition date would receive severance packages.

The Oregon Nurses Association, which represents 66 nurses employed in Samaritan's home health division, is bargaining over seniority rights, severance amounts, continuation of benefits and other issues for its members.

"It's been an abrupt decision in a short time frame," union spokesman Kevin Mealy said, adding that the transition from Samaritan to Signature could be hard on patients as well as their caregivers.

"The nurses are obviously concerned about their patients left relying on a for-profit company for care," he said. "This is a very personal, one-on-one relationship that nurses develop with their patients."

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald