Let’s Help Our Home Care and Hospice Nurses

I became President and CEO of the Foundation for Hospice and Homecare earlier this year, because I understood the home care and hospice community is committed to every person’s right to receive care in the setting of their choice.

Simply put, people prefer to receive high quality care in the convenience of their own homes near family and friends. This is especially true in Alaska, where the challenges of traveling to receive hospital care can be prohibitive for many.

A new study released by the Foundation for Hospice and Homecare sheds light on the tremendous distances home care and hospice nurses in Alaska and across the nation travel each year to care for patients in their homes.

The study estimates that in 2013 alone Alaska home care and hospice nurses, aides and therapists traveled over 13 million miles to care for patients in their homes. For some perspective, that is equivalent to traveling the distance between Ketchikan and Barrow (1,331 miles) nearly 10,000 times.

In addition, the study estimates that Alaska home care and hospice nurses provided over 2 million home care visits to patients in 2013.

In 2013, home care and hospice nurses nationwide traveled an estimated 7.88 billion miles, at a rate of 21 million miles a day. That means the distance they traveled each day is equivalent to 2.7 million trips across the contiguous U.S. at its widest point (2,892 miles). That’s also an increase of approximately 40 percent since 2006.

In addition to the commitment of home care nurses, what these numbers demonstrate is the fact that more and more people are relying on home and community-based services. With 10,000 seniors turning 65 each day, the need for home and community-based services will continue to grow. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the home health services industry is number one on the fastest growing employment list.

As the demand for home and community-based care grows, the Foundation for Hospice and Homecare support doing the following:

• Establish unified federal telehomecare reimbursement. Despite significant progress in the development and use of advanced telehomecare technologies, the absence of a uniform federal Medicaid and Medicare telehomecare guideline for comprehensive reimbursement is creating barriers to more widespread adoption of telehomecare services.

• Allow Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants to certify Medicare home health services. More and more Medicare beneficiaries rely on non-physician practitioners as their primary care provider, especially in rural regions of the nation. While Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants are currently able to certify Medicare coverage eligibility for nursing home care, they are not allowed to do the same for less costly home health care that enables beneficiaries to maintain independence in their homes. We need to ensure that our seniors and disabled Americans get the home health care they need in a timely manner while relieving primary care physicians of burdensome paperwork

• Support training and recruitment of home care nurses and personal care assistants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, home health care services is the industry with the fastest growing employment projections. Federal funding is necessary to support the training of home health care workers, such as forgiving the student loans of nurses and aides who agree to work in rural and underserved areas.

By taking these steps, we can make it easier for Alaskans and people across the country to receive high quality and affordable health care where they want to be—at home.

Read the full editorial here.