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Health department selling home health branch

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Editorial: April 18, 2013

ISSUE: Selling home health services

OUR VIEW: A sensible decision

 

Having weathered rising costs and sinking returns with no relief anticipated, Lincoln Trail District Health Department plans to sell its home health services division.

Since last year, the department has tried to make up financial shortfalls through attrition. But that hasn’t made enough impact and the program is looking at a financial loss.

Director Linda Sims said earlier this month that buyers’ interest was strong. Bids are due Friday.

The department’s home health service is offered in Hardin, Breckinridge, Grayson, LaRue, Marion, Meade and Washington counties. About 198 unduplicated patients receive services monthly, with many being visited multiple times each month.

Once the service is sold, those patients will be able to stay with the buyer or choose another provider. Because of regulations of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Sims said, the change in ownership would have little effect on patients’ care. Looking to phase out the service by July, the department will continue to provide services until a sale is finalized.

It seems the department’s plans will impose little, if any, impact on a small group of patients, thanks to those who recognized the shortfalls, had a practical view of department’s inability to balance the budget and set in motion a transition months in advance.

Other home health options are available in the private sector. In fact, it’s a rare service of public health departments, and about a dozen other departments throughout the state offer it. Home health is not a critical service of Lincoln Trail District Health Department and leaving behind the financial liability should allow the department to refocus attention on essential services.

The home health branch has been shrinking for some time as expenses increased and reimbursements declined. Twenty years ago, the program employed an estimated 110 workers. Now, about 25 are assigned to the program.

Those 25 employees’ futures are the only clouds in the plan to sell. Potential job losses are not easy to swallow, but the buyer would be wise to evaluate these employees, who have the specific skill set and existing relationships that would help the new enterprise thrive.

Some have noted the gloom of ending a service the community has enjoyed since 1981. While there might be something to say for historical presence, financial health could not have been risked in this case. With the challenges facing all health care providers, including agencies providing public services, tradition usually is an unaffordable luxury.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.