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New hospice director arrives

Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Heads up doctors.

There’s a new Barton Home Health and Hospice director in town, but he’s no stranger to Tahoe.

Mike Sobelman, 56, started with the agency May 20. He’s replacing Debra West, who resigned to complete a master’s degree in health care administration.

Sobelman hails from “another pretty place” — Monterey, Calif. — where he served in a similar position at Heartland Home Health Care and Hospice.

He’s banked 25 years of experience in home health and 30 years in health care, starting out as a budget analyst for Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.

“This opportunity came up, and we said, ‘Let’s take it,'” he said. His wife of 32 years, Melody, is unpacking at the home they bought here from his in-laws.

“We have a history of coming to Tahoe. We used to come up here to camp at Camp Richardson,” he said.

He and his wife are spending their first full year as “empty nesters,” but Sobelman — a proud parent — has already hung pictures of his two grown daughters on the wall.

Sobelman understands the bonds of family in more ways than one.

Working in home health and hospice agencies offers a first-hand glimpse of family dynamics at a pivotal time in their lives.

“When you’re critically ill and going to die, you as the patient, the family and doctor, you have a decision to make to help that loved one die with dignity,” he said.

Sobelman comes to the Barton agency with goals — one involving community outreach.

“Since we’re the only game in town, we want to be a big player,” Sobelman said.

He’d like to boost referrals from doctors in town.

“All around the United States, physicians need to refer to hospice sooner. We’ll get patients in the last week of their lives, and we need to get them sooner. It’s a little unfair to the family,” he said. “They’re better at referring to home health.”

A simple education plan could mean the difference for ensuring an optimal level of care for the community.

Another of Sobelman’s goals includes preparing for the growth in the Carson Valley, which Barton Home Health also serves.

Sobelman is well versed in number crunching, a health care skill many hospitals and agencies use to keep units open given new restrictions from Medicare.

When the federal government’s insurance program for the elderly overhauled its fee system, many agencies were forced to either cut back staff or shut down.

“Here it would be foolish for Barton to shut it down,” he said. “If you run a hospice well, you can make money. This one does, not a lot, but it does,” he said.

Sobelman enjoys his work.

“As long as you’re having to work for a living, it’s a very rewarding job. We’re in the business of taking care of people,” he said.


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