Vermont near national average in home health care

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(Host) Vermont home health agencies performed near the national average in new figures issued by the federal government. Officials say the statistics indicate the state is doing well for a system that cares for more than its share of acutely ill patients.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The information amounts to the first-ever report card on how individual home health agencies are performing in relation to the national average. It follows a similar report on nursing homes released last year.

Churchill Hindes of the Visiting Nurse Association in Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties says the new information makes the Medicare system a lot more user friendly.

(Hindes) “This is an extraordinary first step and I think a very credible one to bring information to consumers.”

(Zind) Hindes says the new report also keeps home health agencies on their toes. For the first time it gives them a chance to compare their performance with the national average.

The report outlines 11 areas of care and shows the percentage of a home health care agency’s patients who show improvement. Vermont agencies score average or above in two categories and generally several percentage points below average in nine categories.

Patrick Flood is Commissioner of Aging and Disabilities. Flood says the slightly below average marks should not alarm anyone.

(Flood) “I’d suggest strongly that it’s primarily because Vermont has put such an emphasis on keeping people at home and out of nursing homes that a lot of the people that our home health agencies are caring for are very sick and very frail people for whom this kind of improvement and function that this particular federal survey is looking at is really not a reasonable goal. For a lot of these people, we’re just trying to maintain their function.”

(Zind) Flood says Vermont home health agencies care for a far higher percentage of acutely ill patients than their counterparts elsewhere. Peter Cobb is the Director of Vermont Assembly of Home Health Agencies. Cobb says in addition to looking at the Medicare assessments, there’s other information available to consumers.

(Cobb) “One is they can ask the agency, Do you do patient satisfaction surveys? And, if so, can I have a copy of the results?”

(Zind) Cobb says consumers should also check with the state to see if there have been any complaints about an agency, and talk to people who have used the organization.

The new home health agency assessments are posted on line Most of Vermont’s home health agencies provide a broad range of services; the information gathered by the government only reflects their performance in the area of home health care.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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