Regional Digest

• Home Health agencies in Minnesota are finding they have to turn some Medicare patients away because their needs require costly services that the government won’t pay. Hennepin Home Health Care laid off four physical therapists because the agency could no longer pay them. "We will take on Medicare clients," owner Claudette Heywood told the Associated Press. "But we will not take on a client that will be a six-month duration because Medicare will not pay for it."

• A new company called AccentCare will open in Dana Point, CA. The healthcare staffing company has received more than $5 million in venture capital financing from three firms, reported the Los Angeles Times. It will be headed by CEO David Barry and President Joe Davis. AccentCare plans to acquire agencies around the country that provide home health services.

• Most home health agencies in Washington are losing money because of the changes in Medicare reimbursements, reported The Seattle Times. In some cases, it is putting additional pressure on families to provide home health services that agencies can no longer afford to provide. It is estimated, the Times reported, that more than 2,000 Medicare-certified home healthcare companies have shut down throughout the nation over the past 16 months. A Seattle nursing home administrator said he believes sick people are receiving fewer home visits as a result.

Tri-County & Affiliates, a home nursing service in Wadsworth, OH, laid off more than 130 workers when it suspended its operations in early April. The move affects more than 450 clients in 17 counties, reported the Akron Beacon Journal. The company, which was founded 15 years ago, closed because the government had cut its Medicare reimbursement rates from an average of $68 per patient visit to $44. The government also wanted the agency to repay $1.3 million in alleged overpayments.

Blount Memorial Hospital in Tennessee will now be able to offer home care services in four more counties: Monroe, Loudon, Knox, and Sevier. Before, the company only served the Blount County area. With its new provider license, the hospital can offer home health services, home infusion services, and hospice services.

• Community Visiting Nurses of Avoca in Pennsylvania closed March 1, leaving its owner $104,000 in debt. Mary Ann Trinovitch told The Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre, PA, that her home healthcare agency failed because the new Medicare accounting system meant she spent more to care for patients than the federal government paid. Physician referrals to her agency dropped 14% in 1998, partly because doctors worried about facing new penalties if Medicare did not approve their referrals. Some months, Trinovitch received only five new patients, she said. In addition to lower reimbursements, the government also required that all home health agencies collect data for the Outcome and Assessment Information Set (OASIS). The collection required new software that would have cost Trinovitch’s company $30,000.

• A home health aide in Rochester, NY, faces charges of endangering the welfare of a vulnerable elderly person for allegedly shoving a 76-year-old Alzheimer’s patient to the floor, fracturing his pelvis and ribs and puncturing his lung. The prosecution of the aide is the first under the "Kathy’s Law" statute, named after a comatose patient who was raped by a nursing home aide in 1995 and later gave birth, reported the Associated Press. Bail for the home health aide was set at $2,500.

• Four people were sentenced in Florida last week for their roles in a Medicare fraud scheme at St. Johns Home Health Agency, reported the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, FL. A high level employee of the agency will serve 63 months in prison on charges of racketeering, money laundering, and fraud for awarding contracts to outside groups and helping to file false claims on behalf of the groups. She took more than $1.2 million in payoffs from the groups. Two additional employees received 37 months in prison, and another received 33 months. The three controlled the outside groups that paid kickbacks and filed about $10 million in false claims.

• A forum on long term care said Indiana should spend more money on home healthcare and assisted living facilities and less on nursing homes, reported the South Bend (IN) Tribune. United Senior Action, a group that lobbies for senior citizens, is calling for a $45 million increase in government spending for the CHOICE home care program. About 90% of long term care dollars in the state go to nursing homes, compared to only about 50% in states such as Oregon, the Tribune reported.

• Six members of a Springfield, IL, family were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of receiving more than $350,000 fraudulently through Medicare and other government programs. The defendants allegedly submitted claims that they received services from a home healthcare provider who was either dead or lived out of state. Two of the accused worked with Community Care Systems and said they provided home care services for a woman who died in January 1994, reported the State Journal-Register in Springfield.

• Massachusetts legislators have passed a $144 million supplemental budget that includes $2.3 million for home healthcare. The budget was approved by the House, but is still waiting for approval from the Senate before it can go to the governor’s desk. Freshman Rep. Michael Festa (D-Melrose) proposed the money to make up for federal cuts that left seniors struggling to pay for home healthcare, reported the Associated Press.