Fewer health departments offering home health services
CYNTHIANA, Ky. – Home health care is invaluable to many Kentuckians, especially those in rural areas as it offers a range of services that can be given in one’s home for an illness or injury.
What You Need To Know
- WEDCO offered home health for nearly 50 years
- District serves residents of Bourbon, Harrison, Nicholas and Scott counties
- Director says main goal is continuation of service
- Just five health departments in Kentucky currently offer home health
According to Medicare.gov, home health care is usually less expensive, more convenient and just as effective as loved ones head to a hospital, or a skilled-nursing facility. Residents in the service area of central Kentucky’s WEDCO Health District, which serves Harrison, Bourbon, Nicholas and Scott counties, recently sold its home health division to the for-profit Bluegrass Care Navigators (BCN), leaving WEDCO without health department-provided home health services for the first time in 50 years.
“We have had home health since the 1970s, and not every health department has a home health agency attached to it,” said Crystal Miller, director of WEDCO Health. “The reason that that came about was in communities where there wasn’t a presence of home-health agencies, the health department would fill the gaps. Although individual care, like home health services, is not a core public health service, when there’s a gap and a need in the community, the health department is one of those agencies that steps in and does that.”
Miller said there are 61 health districts, or departments in the Commonwealth, and when she started at WEDCO in 2007 just 24 of those offered home health. After WEDCO sold its home health to BCN, there are now five.
“As time has progressed, obviously, more private-sector home-health agencies have come into communities,” she said. “The reason health departments sell that service so often is because it’s not a core public health service. It’s not something we are mandated to do. It’s a very different business because there’s a lot of travel, a lot of patient care.”
After a while, Miller said, money also became a factor.
“Home health used to be a revenue generating service for us, but it became difficult when the pension issue happened in Kentucky – 50% of health departments were facing closing their doors when the pension issue happened,” she said. “Every health department started looking at things they were doing but didn;t have to do. For us, if we go back four years, which was when all of this started, we began to put about $250,000 of our reserves into just operating to ground zero in home health. Over four or five years, you begin to wonder what to do when the reserves are gone.”
Miller said after $1 million from WEDCO’s reserves was put into home health, she started having discussions with her board of health in an effort to get a plan and determine the future of home health. She said the board agreed to gauge interest from the private sector.
“One of the things the board was adamant about is not interrupting patient care,” Miller said. “We want the services provided in our communities.”
After it became public knowledge WEDCO was considering selling home health, many people within the district that received those services began to worry about what that meant. Carla Courtney, of Cynthiana, feared her mother-in-law, who has been in a wheelchair for nearly 30 years, would suddenly have to start going to the doctor once a month, or move into an assisted living facility.
“My husband’s mother has been receiving home health services for 15 years,” Courtney said. “This is a very important program, because otherwise, a lot of these older people would have to go to nursing homes.”
Courtney said she was concerned when she heard WEDCO was selling home health.
“I think a lot of people were,” she said. “I’m sure Bluegrass Care Navigators will be OK, there will just be a little transition period. The alternative is there not being home health here at all. My mother-in-law just turned 80. It’s not that easy to take her to the doctor and get bloodwork done and things like that. It’s much easier when they can come in and do it, and it’s so much better for patients not having to travel to the doctor all the time.”
Miller admitted that change is often difficult, but Bluegrass Care Navigators’ decision to retain many of the home-health employees from WEDCO will make the transition much easier.
“Those employees have that level of trust established with the patients,” she said. “Anything they tell them they’re going to be OK with. It was a very rocky situation in the beginning and there were rumors flying around. We were finding that information wasn’t coming back to the staff and when you don’t have everyone on board with that, then those things get wonky.”
Call Bluegrass Care Navigators at 859-234-5090. Miller said they actively taking referrals in an effort to ensure WEDCO’s former patients get the same care provided by WEDCO.