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July 16, 2010

 

Legislators want to save home health agency

Subcommittee will look at ways to cut costs in attempt to offset loss of state funding

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

A subcommittee of Health Committee members is being formed to examine how to minimize the expenses of the county’s Certified Home Health Agency program or make it profitable and avoid selling the agency.
At a special meeting of the Health Committee Thursday, officials heard the future of the program is uncertain given that as of July 7 the state stopped funding the program.
Although the price would be negotiated, Health Committee Chair Tony Pace (D-7th Ward) said the program license could possibly be sold for $1 million.
The county expects to receive approximately half of the $118,000 it budgeted to receive in state aid for the year, said Health Department Director Catherine Feuerherm.
The county has not received any of the $118,000 yet but since the state funding stopped about midway through the year, Feuerherm expects to receive about half of the budgeted amount.
Feuerherm could not project how much the program will cost the county for 2010 but guessed it will not be less than the $50,000 it cost the county last year.
The program served 695 individuals in 2009. Sixty percent of those were Medicare patients, said Feuerherm, with Medicaid clients and private insurance patients accounting for the rest.
Because of changing Medicaid payments and increased competition from St. Joseph’s Hospital, which became a certified provider in 2009, the county has struggled to make the agency profitable over the years.
Pace said he, John Troy (D-1st Ward), Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) and Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer) will sit on the committee. Community members with knowledge of the health field might also sit in an advisory capacity.
The committee will examine what efficiencies can be made in the program in order to streamline costs and make a recommendation to the Legislature by September.
County Administrator Martin Murphy suggested that the committee also seek requests for qualifications from other providers so the county will be better prepared to seek proposals if it decides to do that in the future.
“It is important to know which private entities are out there ... and to know our competitors to give a basis to compare the services we are providing with the services they are providing,” Murphy said.
Board of Health member Sandra Attleson, a registered nurse, said she hopes the committee finds a way to retain the program.
Attleson said she used the services five times over the past 10 years, saying the fact the services are local offers a crucial component in the care.
“These people are really interested in us,” Attleson said.
Attleson is concerned that outsourcing the program would sacrifice the quality of care in the county.
Troy said the committee can examine what ways to make the program profitable, for example drawing more clients in.
“Even 10 percent, another 70 people, would certainly help,” Troy said.
Troy said the committee will have to examine how many cases the nurses can handle without having to increase staff.
Price said she would serve on the committee but does not know if it is feasible to increase the patient load.
In July 2009 the county formed a marketing committee in an attempt to draw more clients and nurses to the program. Price said the attempts were successful, saying everything that could be done locally was done and now the state aid withdrawal is a big hit to the program.
“We need to look at the patient load and what is a recommended safe patient load,” Price said.
Price said selling the program would be her last choice and she hopes the committee can prevent that.
“However, if all the facts prove it is in the best interest of the taxpayers of Cortland County then we have to seriously consider that,” Price said.

 

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