Since launching in 2004, Windward Life Care has made a name for itself in the care management and home care spaces. Now, the West Coast company has also opened a home health arm — and it’s hoping to solidify a position in a brand new arena undergoing massive change.
Windward Life Care is an independent care management company that serves older and disabled adults in San Diego County. The company has served more than 2,000 clients since launching.
In October, the company launched Windward Home Health, a state-licensed home health agency that operates as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Though Windward Life Care has operated on the home care side for 15 years, home health is uncharted territory.
Why venture into the unknown and build upon a proven business model? Windward’s clients demanded the capability of aging in place, and they wanted more services to help make that possible.
“Our clients have always been individuals who [have good judgment] and have the means to pay for care that is high-quality and delivered in their own home,” Susan Valoff, vice president of Windward Life Care, told Home Health Care News. “They are looking for choices. We felt that by adding skilled home health nursing to our continuum of care, we could offer people more options and autonomy.”
In addition to her VP position at Windward Life Care, Valoff also serves as the administrator of Windward Home Health.
The newly launched Windward Home Health’s services include RN case management and private-duty LPN care — but that’s not all. The budding home health business also offers medication management and chronic disease management services, plus post-operative care and other medical services.
“A client who is living at home and has diabetes that requires insulin injections may be able to manage that independently for a period of time,” Valoff said. “As they get older, in order to age in place successfully, they may need someone to assist them with this care need. Since non-medical home care cannot provide that skilled-nursing care, we wanted to maintain that relationship with our clients and support them.”
Operating under a private-pay model has enabled the company to provide services at a higher level, according to Norman Hannay, president of Windward Life Care.
Additionally, a private-pay home health foundation will likely help Windward Home Health establish its roots while many of its industry peers try to stay afloat during the upcoming Patient-Driven Groupings Model (PDGM) regulatory flood.
“So much of aging is defined by the medical system and criteria that may be necessary for reimbursement,” Hannay told HHCN. “We see this as an opportunity for us to demonstrate our focus on an individual client.”
Another perk of its private-pay foundation means the company isn’t burdened in terms of Medicare and Medicaid utilization restrictions, according to Valoff.
“We are not constrained by only being able to provide a certain number of visits,” she said. “If we were under Medicare, we would be more time-limited in the services that we would be providing.”
Medicare and Medicaid aren’t always smooth sailing, but the private-pay model similarly has its own set of challenges. Those challenges sometimes include consumer confusion and general familiarity issues.
“People are often confused about what is paid for and sometimes are hesitant or need education on what the family’s responsibilities are,” Hannay said.
Apart from reimbursement or revenue-related questions, Windward Home Health is also grappling with the unique challenges and basic growing pains that come with trying to establish a new business.
“The first is making our constituents aware of the fact that we are providing this new service, and the difference between Medicare-certified and private-pay home health,” Valoff said. “We are just focusing on our existing referrers who are professional fiduciaries, financial advisors, elder-law and estate-planning attorneys, as well as health care professionals who educate [seniors] about what skilled-nursing services we can provide.”
Similar to any new business, Windward Home Health is building its skilled-nursing staff from the ground up.
Currently, the home health side of the company employs eight people.
“We are trying to recruit RNs and LPNs who have the level of experience that we are looking for, and who are willing to have flexible, and sometimes unpredictable hours,” Valoff said. “We are considering some different models, such a guaranteed number of hours in their schedule to attract and retain good staff.”
While it’s too early in Windward Home Health’s inception to determine outcomes, the company wants to use the established home care side of the business as a model for what is possible moving forward.
“We are planning on translating the culture from Windward Life Care to Windward Home Health,” Valoff said. “This is a strong emphasis on education and training. It’s always been extremely important that all of our staff are highly trained professionals and that we are providing ongoing, continuing education.”
As for future plans, the company is looking into how existing Windward Life Care partnerships may fit into the new home health business.
“Windward Life Care has a number of partnerships, and we are exploring how home health might fit into these areas,” Valoff said. “Right now, we have a couple of contracts locally where we provide respite caregiving services for family caregivers who are associated with local nonprofit organizations — Alzheimer’s San Diego, Southern Caregiver Resource Center and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, for example.”
Furthermore, Windward Home Health is looking into partnerships with continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) and assisted living facilities, whose residents have needs that may exceed what their staff can reasonably provide.
“For example, a resident living in a [CCRC] might be on the independent side of that community, but have a colostomy,” Valoff said. “If they can manage that themselves for a period of time, that’s great. But for many folks, as they get older, it may be difficult to manage that independently. And that’s where one of our nurses might be able to come in and help on a daily basis.”