Regional Digest

• Activists gathered in Dayton, OH, recently to lobby lawmakers to give the disabled a choice to live in homelike settings rather than state hospitals, reported the Dayton Daily News. Mike Ellerby, who was paralyzed from the chest down in an accident, has insurance to pay for a live-in home health aide. But most people aren’t that lucky. One man with cerebral palsy was forced into a nursing home after his mother passed away, the paper reported.

• Working conditions, pay, and staff empowerment are three issues that the union representing 600 striking nurses wants Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage to address. The strike is affecting hospital services, including home health care. Providence wants to require mandatory overtime in case of an emergency in the next contract, but the union worries the hospital will abuse the requirement. The hospital at one point offered the nurses less pay than what they currently make, reported the Anchorage Daily News. The nurses earn an average of about $24 an hour.

• A business that helps elderly people deal with the tasks of everyday life is growing increasingly attractive to middle-aged children who struggle to take care of their parents themselves. Age Connections in Salt Lake City, started six years ago. For $60 an hour, the company will find places for the elderly to live, as well as caregivers and people to do yardwork. The rate is in addition to fees for home health providers, but the work helps take the load off the children, reported The Salt Lake Tribune.

Interim Home Health of Roanoke Valley, VA, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, following the company’s attempt to cut costs by downsizing its staff by 50%. Two other Virginia home health companies – Deerfield Home Health Care in Mouth of Wilson and Tri-County Home Health in Hillsville – are already bankrupt, reported the Roanoke Times & World News. That is why the Virginia Association for Home Care made survival its theme for its annual conference held last week. The conference focused on the financial effect of Medicare changes, ways to be more efficient, and ideas of how to retain staff.

Elkhart Community Hospice (Elkhart, IN) will merge with Elkhart General Hospital Healthcare System (Elkhart, IN). The merger is effective June 1, and no hospice staff will be cut. Elkhart Community Hospice will become a service line of the home care department of the Elkhart healthcare system. The hospital has said that its home healthcare division has grown dramatically and that adding hospice fills a hole, reported the South Bend Tribune.

• News that the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA; Baltimore) will eliminate sequential billing on July 1 has given relief to New Mexico’s home health agencies, reported the Albuquerque Journal. "Suspending the regulation may not cure all the problems experienced by the home care agencies," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who sponsored the resolution, which passed in the Senate last month. "But, hopefully, it will alleviate the serious cash flow problems that have paralyzed so many of them." The effects of new Medicare reimbursement caps have already devastated the industry. The New Mexico Association for Home Care said that the state has lost 55 home health agencies under the new payment system, leaving 95 in the state.

United Home Care (Cincinnati) is facing a severe budget crunch, forcing it to solicit donations, reported The Cincinnati Post. Nationwide, more than 1,400 of the 8,000 home health providers have shut down because of federal cost cutting. Rep. Nick Joe Rahall (D-WV) is leading a congressional attack on the Medicare changes, saying they have caused "massive harm - both to home health agencies and to the Medicare-enrolled, Medicare-eligible senior citizens who are vulnerable, frail, and seriously disabled."

• A large sum of money was taken from a home health office in Dublin, Ireland, last week. Armed raiders entered the Atlantic Home Care offices in a shopping center and escaped with "a substantial sum" of money, reported the Irish Times.

• A rally held recently in Rhode Island protested federal cutbacks in Medicare reimbursements that threaten home healthcare. Several elected officials, all Democrats, attended, including Rep. Patrick Kennedy. Kennedy described the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 as "penny-wise and pound-foolish" for forcing many senior citizens into hospitals or nursing homes that cost the state a lot more than home care. The state’s governor has earmarked $350,000 in the state budget for home healthcare and has promised to add $1.65 million more if estimates of state revenue are correct, reported the Providence Journal.

• The fourth annual fundraising auction for Clinch River Home Health (Clinton, TN) raised $4,900 to go toward in-home personal care, light housekeeping, and meal preparation for low income residents. Clinch River is a nonprofit agency.

• Investigators will interview 650 people treated by a home health nurse who was charged recently with stealing from a patient. They will try to determine if there are other victims. The 32-year-old Boynton Beach, FL, woman, who is charged with stealing a $10,000 ring from an 85-year-old patient, had worked for Red-Nurse Visiting. Other patients say they had checks stolen and forged at about the same time the woman came to their homes.

Hospice of Dayton, OH, received accreditation with commendation, the highest level awarded by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. The home care agency, a nonprofit, has been in business 20 years.

• Officials of Cayuga County, NY, are upset that the local Auburn Memorial Hospital is expanding its home healthcare field with a partnership with CGE CareSystems, a subsidiary of Syracuse-based Community-General Hospital. County officials want to preserve their healthcare infrastructure and are perturbed that the hospital rejected a counteroffer. Hospital officials said they didn’t consider the counteroffer because it was submitted too late. The county will likely form arrangements with local companies licensed to provide home healthcare.

Integris Health Systems is planning a $30 million project in Yukon, OK, that will include a hospital with 40 beds and in-house specialties, such as cardiology, radiology, mental health services, and a home health unit. Integris will begin taking bids for the project and could start building in September, reported The Daily Oklahoman.

• A respiratory therapist has launched a medical company from her east Manatee County, FL, home. Erin Farber bought Pinellas Home Medical (St. Petersburg, FL) in October and has formed the extension, Pineview Home Medical, which will supply oxygen and respiratory equipment to homes, hospitals, and assisted living facilities.

• The Department of Human Services Division of Licensing and Certification issued a statement of deficiency to Community Health and Counseling Services (CHCS; Bangor, ME) for failing to initiate an emergency contingency plan. With the plan, a home health worker might have found a fallen 67-year-old client before she died. The worker arrived at the woman’s home, but failed to notify the woman’s daughter when she was unable to make contact, reported the Bangor Daily News. The patient, who had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, was found by a neighbor the next day lying outside next to a bag full of trash that she had apparently attempted to take to her garage. CHCS was receiving $1,400 a month to help the deceased woman daily for two hours.