holding patient's hand for health care trust and support

Adding hospital-at-home can be a lucrative game-changer for home health agencies, but it doesn’t come cheaply. That was the message Thursday from Summer Napier, CEO of Healing Hands Healthcare. 

“Sometimes in home health we can get stagnant,” said Napier, who talked Thursday during a National Association for Home Care & Hospice webinar. “What it did in our organization is fuel innovation, creativity and excitement to let the nurses, the physical therapy staff and the aides realize that home health isn’t a place where you come to die. In fact, it’s just the opposite; you come here and you use all of your skills.”

There are currently more than 200 hospital-at-home programs operating in the U.S. which offer hospital-level care to patients in their homes. The model caught fire during the COVID-19 pandemic when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services launched the Hospital Without Walls waiver program to help hospitals and healthcare systems free up beds. 

Large home care firms are getting into the hospital-at-home business. Last year Amedisys spent $250 million acquiring hospital-at-home provider Contessa. But adding a hospital-at-home program to a home health and hospice business requires significant investment in both staff and resources, according to Napier.

Healing Hands Healthcare added a chief medical officer to its staff and hired additional nurses so it could provide 24/7 care to patients. The company also invested heavily in training to help staff care for  higher acuity patients. Still, Napier said the investments have paid off handsomely.

“Having full-time, available, on-call staff and well-educated nurses who are confident in taking care of high acuity patients is a game-changer,” Napier said. “It is absolutely worth it when you look at the long game.” 

The CMS waiver program will expire when the COVID-19 public health emergency ends at the end of July. The Hospital Services Modernization Act recently introduced in the House of Representatives would extend the waiver program for another two years.

Napier said her company has organized an internal committee to lobby lawmakers at both the state and federal level to make hospital-at-home a permanent model of care.

“We have to speak up. We have to advocate,” Napier explained. “We have a responsibility to let these legislators know what we bring to the table versus assuming that they know.”

On Wednesday, lawmakers and hospital systems urged not to let hospital-at-home waivers lapse during a virtual press conference sponsored by the Advanced Care at Home Coalition.