As home health leaders look to the future, the lessons learned from the COVID-19 emergency will likely continue to shape their efforts for years to come.
In terms of business planning, it will likely be a long while before there’s a return to a world where the coronavirus isn’t the central driver of health care strategy, outcomes and cost.
“We realize the current situation is not really going away anytime soon,” Mary Gibbons Myers, president and CEO of Johns Hopkins Home Care Group Inc., said Wednesday. “We’ll continue to be flexible, creative and resilient.”
Myers made her comments at the National Association for Home Care & Hospice’s 2020 Financial Management Conference, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 emergency.
For Baltimore, Maryland-based Johns Hopkins Home Care Group, utilizing lessons learned from the public health emergency and understanding how it fits into the company’s business model moving forward has been crucial.
“For example, prior to the pandemic, we were preparing for a huge expansion of our facilities,” Myers said. “What we realized is that we really did not need as much space as we thought. We moved that mindset from expansion to contraction and making sure our employees have the optimal experience for the non-patient-facing to be able to do that remotely.”
The COVID-19 emergency also served as a catalyst for innovation for Johns Hopkins Home Care Group, according to Myers.
“In a matter of weeks, we expanded our remote patient monitoring program exponentially to meet the needs of our health system by monitoring COVID-positive patients,” she said. “We are actively discussing strategies to further remote patient monitoring over the years to come with or without COVID.”
Johns Hopkins Home Care Group falls under the larger umbrella of Johns Hopkins Health System’s Home & Community-Based Services division, which includes four Medicare-certified home health agencies, two private-duty companies, a large home medical equipment company, 10 outpatient specialty pharmacies and three alternative care infusion sites.
Similar to Johns Hopkins Home Care Group, Always Best Care Inc. has also scaled back in terms of office space, in relation to the COVID-19 emergency.
Roseville, California-based Always Best Care is a home care franchise company that operates across 209 territories in 30 states.
As part of its COVID-19 strategy, Always Best Care has placed a greater emphasis on infection control — something that will play a larger role for all in-home care providers in 2020 and beyond, according to Sheila Davis, the company’s senior executive vice president of operations.
“One thing that we have learned within our businesses is that you have to be mindful of — and protective of — not only the clients but also of your employees as well,” Davis said at the Financial Management Conference.
While infection control has always been a major aspect of home health, the public health emergency has pushed this to center stage on the non-medical home care side as well.
Additionally, amid the COVID-19 emergency, there have been a number of regulatory exceptions, waivers and other changes.
For Kindred at Home, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and its move to broaden the definition of “homebound” under home health rules has been critical, according to David Causby, the company’s president and CEO. CMS’s goal in the expanded definition was to expand access to home health services, especially to populations at heightened risk for contracting COVID-19.
“This is something the home health industry has been pushing for an extended period of time,” Causby said at the Financial Management Conference. “I think with COVID and … the homebound status relief, we’re really starting to see some real qualitative outcomes, in regards to being able to treat seniors in their home.”
Atlanta-based Kindred at Home provides home health, personal care and community care services in almost 800 locations across 40 states. The provider organization also offers hospice care, palliative care, skilled nursing services, social services and therapy services.
Ranked at the largest home health provider in the country in 2019 by LexisNexis, Kindred at Home operates under the umbrella of Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM)
Like many providers, Kindred at Home has leaned on telehealth use during the COVID-19 emergency. But Causby believes more relief around telehealth use for home health care is needed.
“While there’s no reimbursement associated with that today, we believe continuing to demonstrate the outcomes and the value of this will be something that, hopefully, CMS will take a look at in the long run,” he said.
Aside from lessons learned, the three Financial Management Conference panelists shared a sneak peek of what they will be prioritizing in their companies’ annual budgets for 2022.
One common theme among the home health leaders — technology.
Kindred at Home’s focus will also be on redesigning the company’s clinical innovative programs.
“We will be focusing on building out new clinical design programs that will have a lot of the technology associated with it,” Causby said. “We’re already starting to look at how we would redesign those clinical innovative programs to possibly care for seniors over a much longer period of time. The ability for these patients not to have to end up back in the ER or an acute setting will change how clinicians think about being task-oriented.”
On the vendor side, all of this means budgeting for more growth.
“As a technology provider, we are budgeting for even more growth next year,” John Olajide, founder and CEO of Axxess Technology Solutions, said at the event. “We’re continuing to hire as our business grows rapidly, not just in the U.S. but globally as well. We’re also continuing our strategic partnerships around expanding all our interoperability solutions to ensuring that our clients are positioned for success long term.”
Additionally, John Hopkins Home Care Group has plans to invest heavily in skilled-nursing-at-home models and hospital-at-home models.