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Government

Black-owned hospice provider makes its case to state regulators

Hospice care helped Mary and Willie with a few baths a week, medication in the mail, and any medical equipment they needed. And there was the emotional support from a caring nurse.
Blake Farmer
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WPLN via NPR
In Nashville, Mary and Willie Murphy received medical and emotional support from Heart and Soul Hospice. Opened in 2021, the hospice agency is focused on increasing the use of comfort care at the end of life by Black families. A new hospice provider in Washington state hopes to replicate the model if granted a "Certificate of Need" permit by the state.

Washington state could soon have its first Black-owned and operated hospice provider.

Renton, Wash. resident and former hospice social worker Nathan Yemane became inspired by Heart and Soul Hospice, a Black-owned hospice company in Tennessee. Yemane founded Y.B.G. Healthcare last year, named in memory of his father.

Before serving the community, Y.B.G. Healthcare has to be granted a “Certificate of Need” permit by the Washington State Department of Health, which regulates the number of hospice providers in the state. Yemane made his case to the DOH at a public hearing on Wednesday.

A headshot of Nathan Yemane
Courtesy of Nathan Yemane
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Nathan Yemane.

“We understand what cultural competency, what the value of that is at end of life, especially being that we are minorities at the governing body level and that that is something that we will make sure is from top to bottom and is practiced through and through with every patient, regardless of their background,” Yemane said.

Y.B.G. Healthcare is competing for one of two permits alongside three other, more well established hospice providers. That’s why Yemane looked to Heart and Soul Hospice founder David Turner for guidance. Turner opened his hospice geared toward people of color in 2021.

The two are now co-owners and business partners in Y.B.G. Healthcare, which will operate as Heart and Soul Hospice if they receive a permit. Yemane said there are many barriers to entry for Black medical business owners, including costs and general knowledge of the application process. The first Black-owned primary care facility in the state only opened as recently as 2021.

Data cited in Y.B.G Healthcare’s permit application found that due to the pandemic, between 2019 and 2020, Black people who died in hospice care declined by 20 percent in King County. But overall deaths declined only by 3.5 percent.

Representatives from different communities and organizations around King County spoke in support of Y.B.G. Healthcare's vision for culturally competent end-of-life care at the hearing. Supporters include Horn of Africa Services, Mary Mahoney Professional Nurses Organization and The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.

Eminent Haskins, a member of Seattle’s Ethiopian community also recalled how her family's request for hospice care for her dying father went ignored by a social worker. She said it wasn’t until a social worker who was also a person of color reached out that her father was offered end-of-life care. He died a few days later.

“Especially in the Black community, there's a lot of lack of trust when it comes to medical services and the medical industry in general and I would hate for any family to experience what we experienced at my father's end of life stage,” Haskins said.

State regulators will make their final permit decision in September.