Regional Digest

• About 200 Los Angeles County children have won the right to intensive in-home mental health services under a ruling last week by a federal judge, reported the Los Angeles Times. In some cases, the home care services include around-the-clock counseling by one-on-one aides. Mental health advocates applauded the decision and said they believe it will eventually be extended to benefit children throughout the state who suffer from extreme mental and emotional disorders. The beneficiaries will be Medi-Cal patients under the age of 21 who have failed in traditional psychiatric programs.

• Local home care agencies in Colorado Springs, CO, are complaining that large hospitals are hoarding potential customers, rather than referring them to the smaller agencies. Last year, 60% of Centura Health Penrose-St. Francis Hospital’s patients that needed home healthcare received it through the hospital’s home health agency. And about 55% of Memorial Hospital’s patients needing home health received it through that hospital’s home health agency. Smaller providers say the hospitals are keeping financially attractive customers and referring out only the sickest, costliest ones, reported The Gazette in Colorado Springs. Hospital employees are legally required to provide patients with a list of local home care agencies, giving them the right to choose, but they can also encourage the patient to use the hospital’s agency. The Home Care Association of America (Jacksonville, FL) said it is "very concerned that hospitals have captive patients."

• Two Massachusetts legislators recently paid a visit to a Montachusett Home Care Corp. (MHCC) patient, reported the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, MA. State Sen. Robert Antonioni (D-Leominster) and state Rep. Brian Knuuttila (D-Gardner) were the guests of Adell Wiita, a client of MHCC. The lawmakers’ visit was part of Home Care Family Album Week, which was sponsored by MHCC, a non-profit organization. The visit was designed to give legislators of the Montachusett area an opportunity to see more than "a bunch of facts and figures" regarding home care, MHCC officials said.

• The Providence Sunday Journal of Providence, RI, reported that the state Department of Elderly Affairs said it has a waiting list of more than 100 people needing home care and that on average, it takes 9.5 days to get a home health aide. In the past year in Rhode Island, one visiting nurse association went out of business and another, the state’s largest, laid off 20% of its staff. And just in the past three weeks, the Journal reported, two home health agencies closed because they had no money. The shortage has made it impossible for the state to impose higher standards for quality of care, and people unhappy with their aides are afraid to complain because they fear they will end up with no one.

• Mount Sinai NYU Medical Center and Health System (New York) and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System (Manhasset, NY) have formed an exclusive joint venture between their health systems aimed at ensuring the highest quality and accessibility of healthcare across the New York region. Creation of a Quality of Care Institute will be the joint venture’s first project, the companies said. The Quality of Care Institute will explore three quality of care issues – one of which will focus on enhancing quality of care in long term care, ranging from home care to nursing home care. Under the terms of the agreement, the two systems will create a stand-alone entity, half-owned by each and governed by a joint planning committee. Initially, the venture will be funded with a total investment of $6 million, $3 million from each institution.

• San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown announced a new program last week that will allow independent home care workers to apply for benefits through the San Francisco Health Plan, a nonprofit agency that provides healthcare for low-income residents. Under the plan, home care workers who are employed at least 25 hours a month can pay as little as $3 a month for prenatal and vision care, discounted prescriptions, family planning, and other benefits. The services will be provided at San Francisco General Hospital and public health clinics, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. As of March 1, as many as 5,500 people working under the auspices of the In-Home Supportive Services Public Authority became eligible for the benefits, and so far, the Chronicle reported, 1,000 members have signed up for the health plan.

• An Indiana home health agency said it fears having to close its doors. The Visiting Nurse Association of Southwestern Indiana (Evansville, IN) has been told it must repay almost $4 million to the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA; Baltimore) as a result of retroactive cost-cutting ordered in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, reported the Evansville Courier & Press. The organization says that is twice the amount it had anticipated having to repay, and it’s more than the agency has. Under federal rules, the agency has 15 days to pay the refund or ask for an extended repayment plan over three years with no interest. But board members said the company can’t do it in three years. Board members are planning to appeal to area congressmen to change the rules. Late last week, officials at the VNA were assuring patients and employees that the agency will not close in two weeks, the Courier & Press reported.

• General Motors Corp. (Detroit) is reconstructing its health plans in order to reign in its annual $4.5 billion medical bill, reported The Globe and Mail. Beginning April 1, the company will require salaried employees enrolled in certain plans to check with a consultant before undergoing surgery, a hospital stay, home health care or nursing facility care. Patients can reject the consultant’s advice, but will face a $200 charge on top of what they already pay.