Home Health Agencies Brace for November’s Emergency Prep Rule

As a new emergency preparedness rule from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) looms, home health companies big and small are scrambling to make sure their bases are covered before it takes effect in November.

Under the rule, which was first introduced in 2013 and finalized last September, heath care providers across 17 settings, including home health care, must meet four emergency preparedness standards by Nov. 15: Have an emergency plan with an all-hazards approach; develop policies and procedures based on the emergency plan; come up with a communication plan that complies with federal and state laws and loops in other area providers; and develop and maintain training programs and drills.

The rule is meant to preserve the health, safety and security needs of care providers, their employees and their patients during a sudden emergency like a hurricane, tornado or terrorist attack.

Big players gear up

Perhaps no major home health provider knows the impact of disasters better than Amedisys (Nasdaq: AMED). With 434 care centers scattered throughout the U.S., the Baton Rouge-based company sees its fair share of disasters.

Amedisys also tragically lost its founder and former CEO when he drowned during a devastating flood in Louisiana roughly one year ago.

Though the company already has an emergency preparedness plan that includes nearly all of the elements required by CMS, it hasn’t always looped in other health care providers.

“What’s new for us is the additional community mock drill,” Iris Rancatore, director of survey and accreditation at Amedisys, tells Home Health Care News. “This will be an opportunity for our care centers to participate and collaborate with other Medicare providers such as hospitals, nursing homes, other home care companies and hospices with an emphasis placed on carrying out procedures necessary to protect patients and others in the community in which we serve.”

Norcross, Georgia-based PruittHealth, which offers home health care, skilled nursing and assisted living services throughout the Southeast U.S., also has much of its emergency preparedness framework in place for when November rolls around.

“I feel good about being prepared to meet what CMS is requiring by November,” Natasha Brown, director of policy management at PruittHealth, tells HHCN.

In recent months, the provider has trained its employees in a number of drills and exercises, Brown says. Possible disaster scenarios have included roof collapses, power outages that last over 24 hours and Category 5 hurricanes.

The idea is to simulate something unexpected that would “stress the system” in the same way a real emergency would.

“Emergencies don’t always happen when you’re fully staffed during the daytime,” Brown says. “They very well may happen at midnight.”

One of the biggest challenges so far has been networking with other local providers, mostly due to time and personnel constraints.

“Having an administrator, a maintenance director or a nurse do that, it takes time away from the building where they’re needed,” Brown says.

Despite the occasional heartburn, PruittHealth is very supportive of the new rules, she adds.

Some providers still struggling

Though many home health companies are prepared for the rule’s implementation, others may not be in the same boat, says Barbara B. Citarella, founder of RBC Limited, a health care-focused consulting firm based in Staatsburg, New York.

Citarella presented a six-part webinar series for the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) and has spoken with thousands of home care and hospice providers across the U.S. about the rule.

“There are many agencies that may just have a policy about disaster preparedness that need a plan, need policies and procedures, that need education,” she says. “There are many that are realizing…that they don’t have until January.”

Still, it varies on a state-by-state basis. Agencies in New York, North Carolina, New Mexico and Maryland are generally more prepared because of those states’ regulations, for example.

The emergency prep rule could be more burdensome for home health care agencies, hospice providers and other long-term care services providers. On the flip side, hospitals might be able to cope with the rule more easily due to better resources and organization.

“I think we have to see after the first go-around [when the rule takes effect]…what agencies are struggling with most,” Citarella says. “We will get guidance from CMS. I think they’ve been very good giving information.”

Written by Tim Regan

(Featured photo via Wikimedia Commons)

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