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The home health care option beats the alternative

Rene Reixach’s column published Aug. 13 ("Long-term home care works better in theory than in practice") generalized home health care as unreliable and inefficient. Hopefully, that was not his intent. There are highly qualified and compassionate home health care agencies in our community. He left out a key point: The No. 1 benefit of home health care is the ability for patients to remain at home with loved ones when surgery, an accident, chronic illness or the end of life takes us off course.

While not a perfect system, home health care is an integral, cost-effective and vital part of today’s continuum of patient care. Yet, its greatest value-personal and compassionate care provided through the human connection-cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Home health care is making a tangible difference in cost savings for insurers, providers, the state and patients-and in delivering higher-quality care.

For many people, home care always is and always will be the only answer. Not all of our patients have a family support system; fortunately, home health care programs are designed to address a vast array of individual needs. For instance, home health aide service often is enough to make sure our seniors are getting the extra assistance they need at home. For adults with greater needs for medical care, the Long Term Home Health Care Program, also known as the nursing home without walls, is a cost-effective alternative funded by Medicaid for coordination of services. Visiting Nurse Service of Rochester and Monroe County Inc. and Park Ridge at Home, operated by Unity Health System, are the certified providers in Monroe County.

The Long Term Home Health Care Program also covers services including home-delivered meals, social day care, related transportation and physical therapy. By remaining at home instead of being permanently placed in a nursing home or hospitalized, program participants have a higher quality of life at less than 75 percent of what it would cost for care in a nursing home. This is a patient-centered program that works!

Portraying home health aides as "inattentive" and unreliable and saying they "fail to show up" is both disparaging and broadly incorrect. Our aides are a remarkable, hardworking, compassionate group devoted to the patients and families they care for. No one knows better than our recruiters, managers and schedulers who work with these incredible individuals just how difficult the work they do is. They are also privy to the stories of how rewarded and fortunate our aides feel, too.

The personal connection made between a patient and caregiver often lasts beyond the term of service, as evidenced by the 1,000 patient comment cards, phone calls and patient survey feedback forms we receive annually saying "thank you" and so much more. Surveys of Park Ridge at Home patients indicate that more than 98 percent of them are very satisfied with the care they receive. We know our patients and their families are grateful for home health care, the work we do to ensure that all their needs are met, and their ability to stay at home in familiar and supportive surroundings.

Lastly, in addressing Rene Reixach’s comment that an agency keeps "about half the reimbursement rate to cover its overhead and expenses," so much of what we earn in fact goes back to our aides in the form of full health coverage and other benefits, comprehensive training and continuing education opportunities, and supervision in the field. It’s important to note that certified home health agencies are legally required to supervise aides at least once every 14 days, as well as to ensure that they remain current in their training in order to stay certified.

To embrace home health care as a leading form of illness prevention and good clinical care acknowledges that it is one of the most cost-effective alternatives for getting and keeping people healthy. What that means for hundreds of chronically ill people in our community is that they remain at home, where they want to be.

Vicky Hines is president and CEO of Visiting Nurse Service of Rochester and Monroe County Inc. Jane Shukitis is vice president of home and community-based services with Unity Health System.

8/27/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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