One of the biggest home health providers in the country is teaming up with one of the nation’s largest home care organizations.
Birmingham, Alabama-based Encompass Health (NYSE: EHC) and Omaha, Nebraska-based Right at Home jointly announced a new preferred provider relationship on Tuesday. Broadly, the relationship is focused on “a strong mutual commitment to ongoing in-home care innovation,” the companies outlined.
Right at Home and Encompass Health have often worked together in the past to best serve patients and clients, according to Kerin Zuger, chief of strategic growth for the global in-home care franchise organization. The COVID-19 pandemic created a strategic need to work even closer together, however.
“We have had a more informal relationship with Encompass for years, but last year when the first peak of COVID started, Luke James and Bud Langham reached out wanting to establish a partnership that could be consistent, measurable and scalable,” Zuger told Home Health Care News. “We all recognized the immediate need to ramp up care in the home and knew together we were stronger.”
James currently serves as president of Encompass Health’s home health and hospice business, while Langham serves as the segment’s chief strategy and innovation officer.
“The main driver was our desire to innovate and break down the walls of care in the home setting, but COVID-19 and Medicare innovations certainly accelerated our work,” Langham told HHCN.
As an overall company, Encompass Health offers both facility-based and home-based patient care across its network of in-patient rehabilitation hospitals (IRFs), home health agencies and hospice locations. As of Jan. 26, the company had 241 home health agencies and 82 hospice locations in 31 states.
Meanwhile, Right at Home has more than 500 home care offices across the U.S., in addition to a footprint in seven other countries. While Right at Home is largely known as a home care franchiser, it also operates multiple corporate-owned locations to test out new, innovative initiatives.
The preferred provider relationship has been in effect since the fourth quarter of 2020. It’s the first home care arrangement of its kind for Encompass Health, though Langham noted the company is “having some conversations” with other industry players as well.
Right at Home previously announced a preferred provider relationship with Kindred at Home in 2018.
“We need home health care,” Zuger said. “And they need us.”
Navigating new care models
Traditionally, “skilled” home health providers and “non-skilled” home care operators have tried to stay in their respective lanes. But even before the public health emergency, different in-home care entities began banding together to better care for individuals on a longitudinal basis.
For home health providers, that meant finding — or acquiring — trusted home care partners that excel at helping people with activities of daily living (ADLs) and addressing social determinants of health. For home care operators, that meant seeking out allies that can parachute into the home when a client’s condition begins to rapidly deteriorate.
Their shared goal: to get ahead of adverse health events and keep people out of the hospital.
“Right at Home truly is positioned to be the navigator of the aging journey,” Zuger said. “We want to ensure our clients and their families have access to whatever products, services and community resources they need or want. Encompass is one of those services.”
In line with breaking down barriers to care in the home, locking in partnerships with home care organizations can also help home health providers participating in value-based care arrangements. To some extent, that includes the Home Health Value-Based Purchasing (HHVBP) Model, which could be nearing a national rollout in the not-too-distant future.
Encompass Health and Right at Home are currently in the process of collaborating to develop tools to identify home health patients who may benefit from home care as well as home care patients who may benefit from home health care, Langham explained.
“Patients who are on service for both organizations will have the benefit of a home care and home health partner who are on the same page with patient goals,” he said. “[We] are aligned in the purpose of supporting our patients’ desire to age in place.”
The preferred provider relationship with Right at Home will also include Encompass Health’s hospice providers as it continues to evolve, Langham added.
‘Data is king’
In addition to better caring for patients, the preferred provider relationship is about collecting new kinds of data within the home.
“As we know, data is king,” Zuger said.
Initially, the data-collection efforts between Encompass Health and Right at Home will include better understanding primary and secondary diagnoses. The two home-based care powerhouses will likewise exchange information around vital signs, risks, mobility and more.
“It all comes down to being able to better predict needs, so the ‘post-acute’ industry can be more ‘pre-acute,’” Zuger said. “We want to know client drivers for needing home care and home health. How could we have gotten to the patient sooner? This partnership gets us closer to answering that question.”
News of Right at Home and Encompass Health teaming up shouldn’t be too surprising. April Anthony, CEO of Encompass Health’s home health and hospice business, touched on emerging home care partnerships during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call.
Anthony specifically talked about home care collaborations in the context of SNF-at-home models, which aim to keep high-needs patients out of skilled nursing facilities (SNFs).
Typically, SNF-at-home programs require a mix of home health and home care services.
“We will need aligned organizations like Right at Home to create local home-based care ecosystems to support the challenges of SNF-at-home and hospital-at-home,” Langham said. “But this relationship is bigger than that.”