Dried-Up Funding Forces Illinois Home Health Providers to Cut Services, Clients

As Illinois legislators wrestle with the state’s budget, cuts to home health services could force thousands of Illinois seniors to seek costly alternatives.

In early March, the Illinois Department on Aging (DOA) notified home health providers that funding for the state’s Community Care Program (CCP) would be exhausted by March 15.

A backlog of overdue bills has been cited as the central cause for the program’s drying up, according to the DOA, as the state owes CCP $173 million that was supposed to have been appropriated last year but has carried into fiscal year 2013.

As the CCP provides home care services to about 80,000 seniors throughout the state, according to the Illinois Association of Community Care Program Homecare Providers (IACCPHP), the industry has urged state legislators for a supplemental appropriation for $173 million to save CCP from financial ruin and “avoid a collapse of the homecare agency infrastructure.”

Running anywhere from $60 million-$65 million per month, the CCP is one of the most cost-effective programs serving seniors in Illinois, says IACCPHP Executive Director Robert Thieman.

“By keeping seniors within the comforts of their own homes, CCP is saving them costly fees for institutionalized settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, as well as assisted living fees,” says Thieman. “Health benefits for seniors are much greater with them staying at home, than it is for them to be in institutionalized care.”

The average cost for nursing homes is more than $50,000 a year and climbing, according to AARP, with a third of nursing home residents paying with their own personal funds. Per month, this translates to $4,166.

When a senior stays in a nursing home for a long period of time, moving back into his or her home is not always an easy process, says Thieman, as finding appropriate housing that meets individuals’ care needs then becomes an issue.

“The key is to keep them out of institutionalized settings in the first place,” he says. “However, if the program gets destroyed because of a lack of funding, then there might not be another option but institutionalized care.”

While CCP anticipated that its funding would dry up mid-March, weeks later smaller providers are already starting to feel the sting.

Spoon River, a home health services provider from West-Central Illinois, sensed funding troubles were on the horizon, as what usually took three to four months to receive payment has increased to nine months.

As a result, the Farmington-based company narrowed its home health service areas from three counties to only one under the CCP.

While Spoon River has both private pay and Medicare sides to its home health business, the company says it will be providing home health services under the CCP only in Fulton County instead of Peoria and Tazewell counties.

Although Spoon River is not going out of business, assures Owner and Director of Professional Service Susan Platt, the company has already started sending 30-day notices to 100 of its clients about service terminations.

Of the 150 total clients receiving home-based services from Spoon River, only about 10% have been transferred to other care facilities so far, says Platt.

A resident nurse for the past 20-plus years, what puzzles Platt is that the number of hours Spoon River is required to administer to its clients has not declined as a result of less funding.

On average, Spoon River is required to assign a little less than four hours of care per client, three times a week.

“The program is growing, but the budget is not growing with it,” says Platt. “It’s like the left-hand and right-hand are doing opposite things, and the money is slower and slower coming.”

Written by Jason Oliva