Regional Digest

• Home health agencies in the Tampa Bay, FL, area are facing severe shortages of home health aides. Susan Dietrich, director of nursing at the Visiting Nurses Association of Florida, said she spent $1,200 on advertising and another $200 on balloons and food for an employment drive, seeking home health aides. "I offered bonuses," she told the St. Petersburg Times. "I had one applicant show up." Home health providers say that paying wages higher than the standard $8 to $10 an hour might entice more workers, but that they are limited because of what Medicare and Medicaid pays.

Authorities charged the operators of Faith Home Health Services in Baton Rouge, LA, with pension plan embezzlement and fraud for taking $8,000 from employee pensions to pay for business expenses. The women also allegedly misapplied Medicare reimbursements from August 1996 to February 1998 by using them for operating expenses. If found guilty, they could receive as many as 10 years in prison or fines of $250,000 or more.

The Tucson Loan Chest in Tucson, AZ, provides low-cost home health equipment for people whose insurance won’t cover it. An 89-year-old woman, for instance, rents a multiposition electric hospital bed for $4 a month, instead of the $160 a month a medical supply business would charge. A 24-year-old car accident victim rents a tub transfer bench for $3 a month, reported the Tucson Citizen. The organization’s fees are based on a federal guideline sliding scale. They are waived for those who can’t pay anything.

Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, CO, may cut its home care operations because the division lost $503,000 last year. The hospital’s executive director, Bob Peters, said the hospital can’t afford to subsidize services that don’t pay their keep, reported the Gazette. He intended to first meet with managers to try to make the services more efficient. The hospital is seeing the deficit because of reduced Medicare reimbursements and an influx of patients who are unable to pay.

About $250,000 in renovations to the Harrington Memorial Hospital’s Home Care and Hospice Department in Southbridge, MA, was completed in June. The renovations added a conference room, staff room, medical records office, and hospice office. The department has become busier in recent years because insurance companies now inch people out of hospitals sooner than they can care for themselves, reported the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, MA.

Trouble keeping home health nurses on staff has forced agencies to decline services to some very needy patients. In Grand Rapids, MI, a 9-year-old boy has lived at the DeVos Children’s Hospital for more than three months because of problems with the state’s home care payments, reported the Grand Rapids Press. The boy could have returned home weeks ago, but social workers could not find a nursing agency willing to take his case. State officials gave the family permission to hire nurses from a non-Medicaid agency, as it was the only choice. Nursing shortages may be due to the fact that nurses did not receive a pay increase in seven years until January. Now, the state reimburses agencies $26 an hour for registered nurses and $22 for licensed practical nurses. But reimbursements were decreased for off-hour workers, and agency officials need 42% of the reimbursement to cover administrative costs and make a profit. That leaves LPNs, for instance, with about $13 an hour. A pilot voucher program in which a public agency handles the money, but relatives hire and schedule nurses may be a solution to the problem. Nurses become independent contractors. One registered nurse who had made $14.25 an hour through an agency was able to make $18.50 an hour working for herself.

The Cincinnati Health Department’s home health agency has been owed about $600,000 in unpaid Medicare claims from 1994-96 and may never see the money, reported the Cincinnati Post. The 10,200 claims not paid were mishandled by Health Care Services Corp., also called Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, the company assigned by the government to process them. That company pleaded guilty last year to defrauding Medicare. It was fined $144 million, but it has never paid the health department.

Verdugo Hills Hospital Homecare in the Los Angeles area has been accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Some of Verdugo Hill’s services include skilled nursing and psychiatric care, home health aides, and medical social work services.