More than 500 patients receiving health-care services at home, including infusions and hospice care, will have to find new providers soon. And 220 nurses and other health-care workers will have to find new jobs.

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More than 500 patients receiving health-care services at home, including infusions and hospice care, will have to find new providers soon. And 220 nurses and other health-care workers will have to find new jobs.

Swedish Visiting Nurse Services (SVNS) announced Thursday it will close its doors by the end of April, a move that took most patients and workers by surprise. Home-care patients will have 30 days to find new providers and hospice patients 60 days, according to an announcement by Swedish Health Services.

Dr. Jon Younger, SVNS medical director said the decision to close was not a result of the affiliation with the much-larger Providence Health & Services but was made because the program “didn’t have a viable business model” and had suffered operating losses for the past three years.

“We had wages and benefits that made it very difficult to succeed,” Younger said. “The economics of health care have changed — to the point that Swedish as an institution is not able or willing to subsidize home health.”

In the past two years, he said, Swedish cut back the program’s geographic area and attempted restructuring. Last year, cost played a major role in its negotiations with the union representing workers in the agency, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that a premier institution like Swedish, with this excellent unit of very highly skilled practitioners, has made the decision to close it,” said Diane Sosne, union president. “I really think that’s a huge loss to the community.”

While Swedish is eliminating its programs, Providence Hospice & Palliative Care announced late last year it planned to expand, naming a former director of Gentiva Health Services, a national for-profit company, as director of Providence Hospice of Seattle.

Younger said Swedish patients would not be steered to any particular home-care or hospice agency. They and their families will be able to choose among several agencies in the greater Puget Sound area, he said. “We are very fortunate in this area to have a number of very superb agencies; we know our patients are going to continue to be well served by the agencies that continue to exist.”

Other hospital systems offering home-care or hospice programs, or both, include Evergreen Healthcare in Kirkland, Highline in Burien and Franciscan Health System and MultiCare, in addition to two for-profit companies and Group Health Cooperative for members.

Right-to-die advocates worried that hospice patients who move from Swedish to Providence will not be aware that Providence, a Catholic institution, has a policy prohibiting hospice employees from assisting patients to use Washington’s Death with Dignity law, which allows doctors to prescribe lethal-medication doses to terminally ill patients who wish to hasten death.

“Providence hospice is an excellent hospice with terrible policies on Death with Dignity,” said Robb Miller, executive director of Compassion & Choices of Washington, a patient-advocacy group.” In a progressive community, Providence stands out as the only provider that has taken an anti-choice stance on the Death with Dignity law.”

Although Providence policy says employees can’t discuss the issue with patients, Steven Saxe, the director of the state’s Office of Health Professions and Facilities last year said all health-care providers, including those at Providence, have a “protected right to offer basic information” about the law to patients.

Younger noted that Swedish policy allows staff and physicians at the hospital to consult, refer, coordinate and otherwise support patient desires regarding Death with Dignity, “and that will not change.” If patients want a secular-hospice agency, he said, there are many in the community, and patients will have that choice.

“Our No. 1 priority with this kind of transition is to make sure the patients are well cared for,” Younger said.

The state Department of Health, which regulates home-health agencies, as well as hospice programs, through its Certificate of Need program, said other programs should be able to absorb Swedish patients.

In terms of relative size, Swedish’s average daily hospice population for the past three years was 543 patients, while Providence Hospice of Seattle’s population was more than 1,800 and Evergreen Hospice’s was nearly 1,400 patients per day.

Swedish said it would work closely with affected employees — who were told of the decision to close the program late Thursday — and help them find positions within Swedish or at other agencies. Swedish said it would invite other home-health and hospice agencies to a job fair to assist SVNS employees in finding new jobs.

Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or costrom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @costrom.