In the home care space, a strong base of referral relationships is an essential part of doing business. One Chicago-based home care startup, Respect, is sparking interest after recently opening its doors by looking for referral relationships in an unusual place—the medical marijuana industry.
Respect, which has locations in Chicago and Milwaukee, has built a relationship with PDI Medical, a Buffalo Grove, Illinois-based medical marijuana dispensary that has been in business since the end of 2015, with roughly 400 patients.
However, building a referral relationship with a medical cannabis company comes with a set of regulatory issues that not all home care companies are willing to deal with.
The relationship began when Respect CEO Bruce Masterson and PDI Medical Founder Joe Friedman connected while doing outreach for their respective businesses. PDI, which serves many patients with Parkinson’s disease, is a natural ally for Respect’s home care services.
“Bruce understands and realizes that medical cannabis can be helpful for these patients, and I realize that patients need home care,” Friedman told Home Health Care News.
Stigmas and Paranoia
One of the challenges Masterson and Friedman face is changing the paradigm about cannabis. While there is some momentum to legalize cannabis for medical—and even recreational—use in many states, its classification as an illegal substance under federal law still poses significant hurdles in mainstream acceptance.
“It’s not the wonder drug, the magic bullet that its biggest proponent would admit, but it’s also not the scary, addictive kind of thing the opponents of cannabis would suggest,” Friedman told HHCN. “Home care, assisted living and nursing homes can benefit, but we have to get through the logistics of how that would work.”
Indeed, allowing patients to use medical cannabis poses a number of problems, including legal and documentation issues.
“In a nursing home or an assisted living facility, anything those patients take needs to be controlled by the facility,” Friedman said. “If they take medications, there is a pharmacy that prepares those medications, but no one can prepare cannabis.”
To work in a facility, Friedman would have to figure out special situations with administrative staff. But there is opposition in the senior living industry to exploring medical cannabis options.
“The reason they don’t want to stick their neck out is the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement,” Friedman said.
Home care, however, may be more open minded to accepting and working around what patients do in their own homes.
“The whole idea is being open to it,” Friedman said. “The patients and the families, they say this is the only thing that is working for them.”
However, Respect is willing to build the relationship and seeing the value in working with patients who use medical cannabis.
“It’s an interesting angle,” Masterson told HHCN. “[Friedman] is a pharmacist and very above board. He’s not focused on trying to get you high. If you go into his shop, it’s totally buttoned down. They are a great partner.”
At the very least, there seems to be a conversation already started on how best to lawfully deal with home care patients who are medical cannabis users. And that openness is an important start.
“It starts with a conversation,” Friedman said.
What the health care industry really needs, Friedman urges, is more research into the benefits of medical cannabis to eventually overcome the legal binds of using the substance in health care settings.
Friedman has taken on some of that responsibility, by educating small groups of physicians and continuing to reach out to heath care providers to build relationships.
“We’ve got to do the data collection and get the information so the federal government can look at this instead as something other than scary and addictive and dangerous, in the same line as heroin,” Friedman said. “It’s something that actually has a benefit.”
Written by Amy Baxter