Regional Digest

• The Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee unanimously approved a long term care measure last week that will establish "one-stop centers that will determine what kind of care a person needs" by pooling the $2 billion currently devoted to the more than 40 long term care programs, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Committee co-chair state Sen. Brian Burke said that the measure is trying to eliminate the waiting lists and confusion that plagues the current system, which is known as the Community Options Program. It was the subject of a critical state audit and a federal lawsuit in the last month. The Family Care pilot programs are slated to run in nine counties.

• The Visiting Nurse Association in Nebraska will merge its home care programs with two Midlands health systems, reported the Omaha World-Herald. The partnership will link the association with the Nebraska Health System, made up of University Hospital and Clarkson Hospital, and InTrust Home Health and Community Services in Iowa. The merger was necessary, said an InTrust spokesperson, because of the changes in Medicare reimbursement. The merged organizations, which will take the name InTrust, will be more efficient, said officials.

LifeStyle Options (Schaumburg, IL), a provider of assisted living services for older adults in their homes, has expanded its local service area with the purchase of Apple at Your Service (Downers Grove, IL), reported the Chicago Tribune.

• Virginia Humphrey of the Connecticut Association for Home Care (CAHC) recently testified at a regulatory reform hearing in Hartford, CT. The meeting was held at the legislative office building last week to hear small businesses testify about what’s right and wrong with federal regulatory agencies. Humphrey voiced concerns over the home healthcare industry and the Health Care Financing Administration’s (HCFA; Baltimore) regulatory burdens placed on home care providers in Connecticut. She testified that 24% of licensed home health agencies had to give up their licenses this year. "These closures have been a direct result of one or more of the regulation mandates set forth by HCFA." Humphrey’s testimony stated that Connecticut has a shortage of registered nurses and even the ones who are in the state are finding jobs in different arenas than home care due to the paperwork requirements and the pay scale of home care professionals.

• A 19-year-old New York woman has been forced to stay in the hospital because her home care agency cannot provide the 24-hour care she needs. While Medicaid has agreed to pay for the care, the agency, Caring Hands (Franklin Square, NY), gave the woman’s family two weeks notice that it would stop serving them. The reason: The agency’s staff has decreased. Home health providers say that staff shortages are common among New York’s 962 home healthcare agencies. Kelly Dolan was in a car accident in 1995 that put her in a coma. She also suffered severe head trauma, broken bones, and a collapsed lung. Following a minor operation earlier this month to help her move her muscles, she stayed in a children’s hospital because without home nursing care, doctors worried for her safety. If her parents can’t find another agency to provide the 24-hour care, they may have to put her in a nursing home. But for now, the parents aren’t even considering it. "We don’t see it as a choice," her father, Thomas Dolan, told Newsday. "Kelly’s still there. If Kelly were nonresponsive, eyes closed … if there was nothing we could do for her, a nursing home would be good for her. But Kelly’s there."

• Parents of disabled children in Iowa are suddenly finding themselves faced with an unexpected dilemma on how to care for their children during working hours. The state Department of Human Services, which gives federal Medicaid money to provide home nursing services to children with special medical needs, recently told families that it would cut the number of hours a nurse could work at their homes. A spokeswoman for Consultec (West Des Moines, IA), which administers the state’s Medicaid money and makes financial decisions for the home nursing program, said nothing has changed in the program. The cuts may be coming from the way Consultec defines which services are "medically necessary," reported the Des Moines Register. A child’s daily routine of sleeping or playing requires a babysitter, not a home healthcare worker. "I understand the state of Iowa is not going to pay for babysitters," said Judy Malmberg, vice president of nursing for Ultimate Nursing Services of Iowa. "But the normal activity of an infant is to nap. The medical needs of a child continue through a nap."

• About 150 people attended a meeting in Grand Rapids, MI, to address the concerns of home healthcare agencies complaining about reductions in Medicare reimbursements. U.S. Reps. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Bill Thomas (R-CA), chairman of the subcommittee on health, responded to the concerns. "My goal by the time we finish out this year," Thomas said, "is to get the Medicare system back on track and to ease some of the burden to hospitals, nursing homes, and home healthcare agencies." Thomas said that Congress needs to look at the dollar amounts Medicare pays for certain services and adjust them accordingly. Ehlers said Congress is working to restore some funding to Medicare and to add prescription drug coverage, reported the Grand Rapids Press.

Affiliated Community Visiting Nurse Association (Rockland, MA) is merging with MGH/Spaulding Home Health Agency (Boston) to deal with financial difficulties facing both companies. They each lost about $800,000 last year, reported the Boston Herald. The merger takes place July 1 and will save the companies money by consolidating administrative services. No furloughs are expected.