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How to Select a Home Health Agency

Jun 6, 2008
Are you part of the "sandwich generation"? You are if you are responsible not only for caring for your own young children, but also caring for your parents. As the population of our nation ages, many people are finding themselves in exactly this predicament. They are quite literally "sandwiched" between generations with responsibilities on both sides. Those are in this "sandwich" will very likely be making some major health care choices for their parents more quickly than they may have anticipated.

If this situation describes you, then you'll be glad you've found this article. One of the first things you'll want to do is make certain you've considered a qualified home health agency as a solution to your loved one's health care issue, instead of a nursing home or care center. It is almost universally true that patients will have better outcomes when they can be cared for in their own homes.

Many home health agencies offer a wide spectrum of care from assistance with tasks of daily living such as bathing, meal preparation and light cleaning, to 24-hour nursing and hospice services. But, by contrast some are very narrow in their scope of care. You'll want to be certain that the home health agency you select has the capability to perform additional services, as they are needed.

As your parent or loved one ages, it may become more difficult for them to perform their daily routine. If you have chosen well, you'll be comforted knowing that your home health provider can continue to provide care. You will spare your family member the stress of moving to a care facility or getting used to new care providers.

Among the nation's leading home health agencies, Family Home Care & Hospice (FHC), located in Spokane, WA is the kind of organization committed to providing a range of services which allows them to continue to serve a patient even when the needs increase.

"We have specifically planned our service offerings so that we can continue to serve patients in their homes for as long as medically practical," explained Michael Nowling, President of FHC. "All our experience points to better outcomes for both the patient and the family if they can be effectively cared for within their own homes."

Indeed, FHC has been recognized by Medicare as among the top 1 percent of home health agencies in Washington State and among the top 3 percent of home health agencies in the nation. This recognition is based on extensive monitoring of patient outcomes and lends credibility to their stated goal of keeping patients in their own homes as long as possible. Medicare maintains a database of information about home health agencies and their patient outcomes. It's a good idea to visit their website and look at the data when considering a home health agency. You can log on at http://www.medicare.gov/HHCompare/home.asp.

In addition to the customary slate of services offered by a home health agency, it would be advisable for you to ask about what specialized services are available. Many home health agencies have the same list of standard services that will fit the needs of most patients quite well, but some patient needs are more specialized and require services that are more difficult to find. Often these services include wound care specialists, primary care medical services and enteral therapy. Ask your home health agency if some of these hard-to-find specialties are available.

One of the challenges in running a successful home health agency is finding and keeping qualified staff. It is in the best interest of your loved one to make certain that the home health agency you select has both an exhaustive background checking protocol and a continuing training program in place.

"It's tough to get a job at FHC," noted Nowling, "but we're not sorry about that. In fact, that's the way it should be. We've built a great organization as a direct result of our strict qualifications and hiring protocols. We have a staff of professionals who hold themselves to the highest standards of practice and patient care and we support them in that effort. They work hard. They love their patients and it shows. They tend to stay at FHC much longer than is the average for home health agencies. This translates into better outcomes for patients and is a large part of the reason we've been so highly ranked by Medicare."

As important as finding and keeping good people is to your positive experience with a home health agency, it is equally important to make sure the agency has an aggressive program in place to keep their staff trained and up to date with the latest techniques and practices. Find out how they train and educate their staff.

"Much of the highly technical medical devices can now be used in a home setting," continued Nowling. "It's part of our mission to keep our staff in touch with all the most recent improvements in health care delivery."

No home health decision process would be complete without considering insurance coverage. Medicaid and Medicare are accepted by most home health agencies as is private insurance including long term care. This is a high priority question and should be addressed early on in your search. Insurance coverages will vary not only with home health agencies but with insurance companies. Trying to interpret the legal documents associated with your policy may not be as fruitful for you as a simple call to a customer service representative at your insurance company.

If you haven't been taking notes as you read, here is a handy checklist:

Put two or three qualified home health agencies on your list of candidates

Make sure you understand their list of typical services

Determine the extent of their specialized services

Check out your selections by visiting: http://www.medicare.gov/HHCompare/home.asp

Ask about their hiring and screening policies

Ask what kind of staff training and education programs they have

Find out if insurance will cover home health, and if your agency will accept your insurance

Making critical decisions about health care is part of your role in the "sandwich generation". Make certain you do your best to consider all the available options, including putting qualified home health agencies on your evaluation list. Your family member will be glad you did--and so will you.
About the Author
Serving the Inland Northwest for more than 4 decades, Family Home Care & Hospice is synonymous with Spokane home care. FHC's history of patient outcomes gained recognition by Medicare as being among the top one percent of agencies in Washington.
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