Falls Church-based nonprofit Capital Caring Health will be temporarily closing its Arlington clinic, the Halquist Memorial Inpatient Center, after 40 years of operating.
The 15-bed Halquist Center at 4715 15th Street N., one street over from Virginia Hospital Center, provides hospice and palliative care and is run by professional clinicians and volunteers. The facility, known for its calm atmosphere and volunteer-maintained gardens, is one of many that Capital Caring Health operates in D.C., Virginia and Maryland.
According to Steve Cone, a spokesman for the nonprofit, the center — which opened in 1982 in the former Woodlawn Elementary School — needs some upgrades. The nonprofit will be launching a capital campaign to raise $10 million for renovations and expects Halquist to reopen in late 2023, he said.
“The facility needs an extensive renovation so we can offer the surrounding community the same state of the art hospice care, such as private patient rooms, that is expected by families today and is available at our other inpatient centers across the region,” he said. “Planning is underway for the New Halquist which will be the very best facility of its kind anywhere when it reopens.”
A letter to staff and volunteers from CEO Tom Koutsoumpas, however, opened with the financial reasons that contributed to the decision to close Halquist, noting that the facility also needed renovations.
“What has happened here at Capital Caring Health is we have experienced increased expenses due to COVID protocols and related operational issues while at the same time experiencing Medicare repayment challenges and reduced patient referrals over a period of many months,” wrote Koutsoumpas in the letter, shared with ARLnow.
A volunteer explained that pre-pandemic, terminal patients would get referred to hospice care options if, after going to the hospital, they opted to live at home — with in-home hospice visits and later a stay at the center — rather than pursue treatment options. With the virus spreading, people visited doctors less, resulting in fewer referrals.
“There is a general concern that last year they weren’t getting care, so then doctors were not putting them in hospice,” the volunteer said.
And nearly 90% of the nonprofit’s revenue comes from insurance reimbursements, according to its most recent annual report. Charitable contributions, meanwhile, make up 6.6%.
The volunteer said she was confident the $10 million will get raised because Capital Caring, and Halquist specifically, has a very loyal donor and volunteer base.
“If anyone has used it and gotten the services, they’re so grateful — the service is so good and people are so compassionate — that they continue to donate, in particular to Halquist, which is part of Arlington community,” she said.
To get back on track, Koutsoumpas said, the nonprofit had to reduce staffing levels and expenses and close the Arlington facility, as well as an assisted living and dementia care facility in Maryland called Arbor Terrace. Staff who could not be relocated were furloughed but could return if the nonprofit’s financial situation improves, the CEO wrote.
“These decisions were not taken lightly and [were] very difficult to make,” he said.
While Cone could not comment on staffing decisions, he affirmed that Halquist’s cadre of volunteers will be able to support patients and will continue maintaining the building and grounds “as if patients were still being cared for there.”
He said the Arbor Terrace facility, meanwhile, is closing because it “did not lend itself to the care surroundings we have high standards for.”
The nonprofit instead intends to staff a new inpatient center that the University of Maryland Medical Complex is planning to build on its campus.
Cone did not confirm the financial considerations Koutsoumpas mentioned but instead highlighted a number of expansions, including more opportunities to provide care across new facilities opening at D.C.’s Sibley Memorial Hospital in August, and in Northern Virginia in November and through an increased presence in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Still, the volunteer said the Halquist closure came as a surprise.
“I was stunned,” she said. “We [the other volunteers] had not heard anything about this.”
The nonprofit will keep the facility in Arlington open until the last patient leaves, according to communications with staff.
It appears that this is not the first time Capital Caring has experienced Medicare repayment issues.
Two years ago, the nonprofit’s insurance reimbursements were the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia and the FBI. In 2019, the organization agreed to pay $3.1 million to settle allegations that it caused the government to overpay as a result of billings submitted to the Medicare program, according to a press release.
At the time, Capital Caring said it cooperated with the review of certain records from 2010-2015, The Dominion Post, a West Virginian newspaper, reported. One year earlier, the paper revealed news of the investigation as part of a larger report on the resignation of then-CEO Malene Davis amid allegations of wasteful spending, a “hostile work environment” and lawsuits alleging that a former consultant was connected to the opioid epidemic.
The nonprofit’s Board of Trustees authorized an outside review of the organization’s operations “to initiate tighter controls, operational improvements and enhanced oversight moving forward,” according to a statement from Koutsoumpas. The then-interim CEO said he would work with “our patients, their families and our donors, in addition to our Board members, to ensure we plot a path forward of transparency, trust and compassion.”
Image (2) via Capital Caring Health