Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely-Bloomenson

Home health care service will end soon

Keith Vandervort
Posted 7/18/19

ELY – The Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital’s decision to exit the home health medical care business is effective at the end of the month. What that decision means for patients in the Ely area …

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Ely-Bloomenson

Home health care service will end soon

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ELY – The Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital’s decision to exit the home health medical care business is effective at the end of the month. What that decision means for patients in the Ely area isn’t entirely clear.

Ely-Bloomenson CEO Michael Coyle argues that home health services are not leaving Ely. “Spectrum Health will continue to provide home health care in Ely, just as they have for the last several years,” Coyle said.

Some in the community are questioning whether Spectrum will be able to provide the same level of care as Ely-Bloomenson has offered and Spectrum officials did not return several phone messages from the Timberjay seeking comment for this story.

Percy White, a retired nursing professional who worked for 40 years in various capacities, including home health care, at EBCH said this week that she is “extremely unhappy” with the decision by hospital administration to end the home health service at the end of July.

She reached out to the Timberjay to comment following a discussion on the issue at an EBCH community forum held in Tower on June 27.

“I have been retired for 10 years now, and even back then, I could see that hospital stays were getting shorter and shorter. Home health care is needed now more than ever because people are getting sent home sooner,” she said.

White said she understood why the Ely hospital has discontinued other services, such as delivery of babies. “That is specialized care, and they weren’t delivering enough babies to provide that service, especially in an emergency situation,” she said.

She noted that home health care, which can include physical therapy, wound dressing, medication distribution and other basic nursing care is very important once the patient leaves the hospital. “Home health care is basic nursing care and there is a real need for that here, and not just for the elderly,” she said. “Anybody may be in need of home care at some time in their life. What are these people going to do?” she asked.

Coyle downplays such concerns. “The rumor that Ely will have limited home health service is just not true, Coyle added. “The care is just simply being shifted to another organization.”

And Spectrum may not be the only option in the future. “Another medical service company, out of Grand Rapids, also reached out to us just this week,” said EBCH Communications Manager Jodi Martin. “They have been offering home health care in northeast Minnesota for quite some time and hope to fill any gaps.”

Coyle has worked at a number of medical facilities over the past 20-plus years, some with home health care and some without. “I have had experience with them over the years,” he said. “I was even a home-health care patient for a time and keeping them viable is difficult.”

Coyle said Ely-Bloomenson needs to focus on critical services that it is well-positioned to provide. ”We need to take a look at what we do better than anybody else, and what does somebody else do better than us; then we stick to what we do best.” That same rationale was behind the hospital’s decision a few years ago to stop providing ob/gyn services.

He said companies that specialize in home health care are in the best position to provide those services. “They are experts in the field,” said Coyle. “Not that we weren’t experts, but as a community hospital we are the jack-of-all trades people.”

Coyle said ensuring the hospital’s long-term financial viability requires that the facility provide services that are sustainable. “We have seen a 43-percent decrease in the utilization of our (home health) services over the past five years,” Coyle said. “In the last seven months, between seven and 11 people have been served for home health care. That is a significant decrease.” He cited tightening insurance admitting criteria and decreasing reimbursement rates as other factors in EBCH’s decision.

Coyle pushed back on the notion that EBCH has “a ton of staff” that goes into homes to provide health care offsite. “Actually, we have three RNs and two home health aides, but only one person on any given day is doing any work because we don’t have enough patients to have our people do any more work than that,” he said.

“We hear that we need to provide the service, but we don’t have enough utilization. The numbers speak for themselves,” Coyle added.

In addition, when insurance companies don’t reimburse or cover home health services, many patients requiring care will undoubtedly pay the fees on their own, or they find alternative ways to get that treatment, he said. “The need is there but the insurance payers aren’t matching the need. The burden then falls on the patient, and we are seeing our numbers of patients decreasing.”

Coyle said the decision to discontinue the service was not an easy one. “We took some six months to come up with what we were going to do and we worked extremely hard to make sure there were other resources in the community that could handle the few patients that we had,” Coyle said.

“We want to be able to provide the best care to as many people as possible,” Coyle said. “But we can’t be all things to all people. There are a lot of services that people may think we should be offering, but we just can’t do it. We are too small and we don’t have the resources.”

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