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How to choose a home health agency

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Home health care services range from high tech pharmacy services, skilled professional and paraprofessional services, and home services delivered to your home. Generally, home health care is ordered and initiated by a physician when a loved one is no longer able to care for themselves due to adverse changes in their health.

Services provided by home health agencies can be divided according to their specialty area:

High-tech pharmacy services include:

  • Infusion Therapy
  • Ventilator management
  • Diagnostic Services (lab/x-ray)

Skilled professional home health agency services include:

  • Nursing provided by a registered nurse (RN) or a nurse practitioner.
  • Licensed practical nurse (LPN)
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Medical Social Work

Paraprofessional services include:

  • Home Health Aides
  • Personal Care Assistants
  • Physical Therapy Assistants
  • Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA)

Home services include:

  • Homemaker and housekeeping services
  • Live-in services
  • Hourly or shift coverage
  • Home companions

According to Tammy Carroll, director of Portage Health Home Care and Home Services, there are several things to consider when choosing a home health agency for you or your loved one.

  1. Is the home health agency Medicare-certified?
    Medicare establishes minimum requirements for home health agencies to provide care to those withMedicare benefits. Many health insurers require Medicare certification for an agency to provide care to their members. Departments of public health review home health agencies regularly to insure adherence to these requirements.
  2. Does the home health agency use its own employees or do they rely on contract staff? Home health agencies employ full-time and part-time professional staff. Home health agencies often cannot find adequate nursing, rehabilitation, or home health aide staff to meet all of their patients' needs. Many agencies contract with other providers or staffing agencies.
    You should choose a home health agency that can provide the majority of your care with its own staff. Inconsistent staffing can be disruptive for patients. If contract staff is used, ask what role the agency has in hiring and supervising contract employees.
  3. What are the home health agency’s hiring standards for professional and paraprofessional staff? Each home health agency establishes hiring standards according to the type of services the employee provides. Some of these requirements include:
    • Verification of professional licensure for clinical staff, minimum educational requirements and prior home health experience
    • Verification of paraprofessional staff's certification by an approved board, and annual competency skills assessment testing
    • Criminal Offense Record Inquiries checks
    • Annual in-servicing and continuing education for all employees
  4. What is the home health agency’s process for scheduling visits? Home health agencies take into account overall agency needs as well as the needs of the individual patients when scheduling visits. Circumstances such as holidays, illnesses and weekends force agencies to prioritize staffing. Often, staff members arrange to visit at a certain time, but emergencies come up that delay or postpone a visit. It's important that patients and families remain open to the possibility of changes in visit schedules. It is equally important that patients notify the agency if they are not going to be home for a scheduled visit.
  5. What payment sources do home health agencies accept? Home health agencies accept payment for services from a variety of sources. If the agency isMedicare-certified, skilled home health services will be covered according to Medicare rules. MostMedicare-certified home health agencies also accept payment from Medicaid or state-sponsored health insurance. Individual insurers and managed care plans contract with selected agencies that meet their requirements and cover home health services according to their benefits.
  6. How does the home health agency coordinate care with my physicians and other health care providers?
    Communication is key to achieving your healthcare goals. Agency nurses and therapists should monitor your care and regularly report progress or changes to your physician. Agencies should immediately contact your physician if there is a sudden change in your health and if there is a need to change any treatments. At a minimum, the agency must verify the doctor's orders every 60 days.
  7. Does the home health agency make nurses available for emergencies?
    During regular office hours, an agency may be able to provide an urgent home visit to assist with non-life threatening emergencies. When offices are closed, agencies still generally make a nurse available for urgent situations. The nurse may not be available to make a visit, but will answer calls and advise patients and families over the phone. Some agencies employ an answering service to inform the nurse on call.
  8. How do I voice my concerns with the agency?
    Home health agencies strive to provide high-quality care. However, you may encounter problems during the course of your relationship with the agency. If a patient or family member feels that the care received was inadequate, they should inform the agency. Many agencies request that patients complete a satisfaction survey once services have ended.
    You should play an active role in selecting the agency that will be providing care to you or your loved one. Educating yourself about the requirements and services offered by agencies is the best way to make the most informed decisions. Knowing which agencies meet your individual needs enhances the likelihood of a successful recovery.
    Locally, Portage Health Home Care and Home Services provide expert home health care. When your family or loved one needs care at home, call (906) 483-1160 or (800) 573-5001 (toll free) for reliable, caring service.

HANCOCK 

500 Campus Drive
Hancock, MI 49930
(906) 483-1000

HOUGHTON 

921 W. Sharon Avenue
Houghton, MI 49931
(906) 483-1777

Express Care 

LAKE LINDEN 

945 Ninth Street
Lake Linden, MI 49945
(906) 483-1030

ONTONAGON 

751 S. Seventh Street
Ontonagon, MI 49953
(906) 884-4120

UNIVERSITY CENTER 

600 MacInnes Drive
Houghton, MI 49931
(906) 483-1860

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