Regional Digest

• A jury in a Florida court has acquitted former home healthcare firm Mederi Dade of Medicare charges, reported the Miami Herald. Mederi Dade is a subsidiary of Mederi Inc. (Miami).

• Two privately held home healthcare firms in Memphis have asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for protection from creditors while they reorganize their finances. HealthSphere of America and its subsidiary, Home-Bound Medical Systems, filed under Chapter 11. Home-Bound has six other offices in Memphis, Nashville, Mountain Home, AR, and Springfield, MO, that also filed. The eight companies have been given until June 25 to disclose their financial situations and list their creditors.

• Strategic Health Services (Charleston, WV), a division of Camcare, laid off 22 home health employees as part of its most recent cutbacks. The company has eliminated 60 jobs since the beginning of the year. Rumors had spread that the company’s director of home health was fired, but that’s not true, reported the Charleston Gazette. The director, Mary Linn Hamilton, is expected to leave the company soon. The reason for the layoffs, Hamilton said, is that government reimbursements since the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 have been cut by about 30%.

• HealthOne (Denver) reported a net income of $31 million in FY98, compared to a net loss of $47 million in FY97. About $26 million of the income came from continuing operations, but the rest came from shutting down the hospital system’s money-losing home health agency and psychiatric hospital, reported the Denver Post.

• A 7-year-old private home health agency in Mission, KS, helps about 75 people with head injuries to accomplish daily tasks. Communityworks receives government funding to assist victims of car accidents in becoming independent again. Kansas became the first state in 1991 to offer community- and home-based rehabilitation waivers for people with head injuries. The waivers pay for programs like Communityworks, which keep the people out of institutions. By doing so, they save the government about $7,000 a month per patient, according to the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

• Kansas home healthcare professionals believe industry troubles will be swept away once baby boomers reach age 65 in 2010. "Our population is getting older and older," Riverside Home Care administrator Liz Legere told the Wichita Business Journal. "Wouldn’t you rather stay in your home if you had that option – with some help – rather than in a hospital or nursing home?" A little more than 40 Kansas home health agencies – 20% of the total – have closed down due to Medicare cutbacks, said a spokesperson for the Kansas Home Care Association. One home health administrator said the cuts were traumatic, but may have been necessary. "There was a lot of fraud," said Dorothy Gathungu-McPherson, executive director of Progressive Home Health Care. "We just need to find a better system for reimbursement without penalizing the patients."

• Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Bradley listened to the troubles facing home health workers in Sacramento, CA, last week – a move that was part of his strategy to prevent Vice President Al Gore from being endorsed by the AFL-CIO. The home health workers told Bradley of how they worked long hours for minimum wages and no benefits, reported the Star-Ledger in Newark, NJ. Bradley said he is "seeking support of labor."

• Hospice and home health agencies in Maine will participate in a national study aimed at documenting the pain felt by people at the end of life. The statistics will be gathered at patients’ bedsides and should help healthcare professionals fight the pain more effectively, reported the Portland Press Herald. The study, called Zero Acceptance of Pain, is already underway in Tennessee, Colorado, and California. In Maine, patients at eight hospice and home health agencies will be asked to describe the intensity and quality of their pain.

• Police have charged a Groveland, MA, woman who worked as a home health aide for allegedly stealing jewelry, china, crocheted blankets, and food from at least three of her elderly charges. Several of the stolen items were found in her home, police said. The woman was held on $2,500 cash bail last week after her arraignment.