Uncertainty over home care’s future marks NAHC’s 17th annual meeting

Pessimism over Medicare reductions is obvious

This year’s annual meeting in Atlanta of the Washington, DC-based National Association for Home Care (NAHC) attracted home care providers hungry for information about what the future holds for their industry. However, despite such keen interest, fewer people attended the 17th Annual Meeting and HomecareExpo than in recent years.

The Expo counted approximately 4,000 attendees and 520 booths. Last year in Boston, there were 8,000 attendees at the annual meeting and 600 exhibitors, according to NAHC. But NAHC vice president for communications Ron Kolanowski reports that last year’s number was significantly higher because NAHC also hosted the World Homecare Congress, which brought home care representatives from 60 countries around the globe.

"This year, we didn’t see a significant drop in the number of agencies present, but the agencies brought fewer people," he says. "We felt like the heart of the home care community was there. We really had the decision makers there this year, and people were serious about learning."

Kolanowski says the thirst for information was evident among the attendees through the level of attendance at the educational sessions.

An indication of unsettled times’

"The educational sessions were very well attended. That shows how hungry people are for information," he notes. "There are two ways we usually measure the success of a meeting. One is, Did the exhibitors get the attendees in the exhibit hall?’ and we think yes. People were really looking to the exhibitors.

"The other [indicator] is Were the educational and general sessions well attended?’ People were very responsive in the general sessions and really liked what they heard. We look at those as seeing how people are responding to what NAHC is saying about things."

Kolanowski says that, in general, there was an energy, "despite the doom and gloom people are going through." But he says NAHC had the overall feeling that the attendees think the federal government’s crackdown will make them leaner and stronger. "People are looking toward the future already."

Rob Laufer, the business development manager of Staff Builders’ Lake Success, NY, medical staffing division, adds, "You don’t have to speak to anyone long before the future of industry comes up, and that is an indication of unsettled times."

He says that it became clear to him at the meeting that people are becoming interested in diversifying. "No one wants all of their eggs in the government reimbursement basket."

At a Hospital Home Health-sponsored roundtable discussion, which was held on the first night of the Expo, Charlotte Hughes, the director of healthcare regulatory affairs for Melville, NY-based Olsten Health Services, says the burden of the government’s changes on the industry is not only affecting new or inexperienced agencies.

"It isn’t new providers who don’t know what they’re doing who are closing," she says. "They are good agencies who unfortunately weren’t very cost-efficient."

And the agencies’ closings are not that far away, adds Susan Schulmerich, executive director of Montefiore Medical Center Home Health in Bronx, NY, at the roundtable, which included some of the industry’s top managers.

"I think it’s going to be a lot sooner than the first three months of 1999 because anyone who knows what their year-end is going to look like, they’re not going to stay in business the first three months of 1999."