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Warren County latest to use fast-track service program for seniors leaving hospital

The Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio is extending its Fast Track Home program into Warren County. Here staff meets with a patient at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati.
The Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio is extending its Fast Track Home program into Warren County. Here staff meets with a patient at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

For the first time, elderly Warren County residents included in a unique, short-term service program will be reimbursed through the county’s elder-services levy for home medical equipment and other services needed after a hospital visit.

The county last week agreed to support a pilot version of the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio Fast Track Home Today program, already in place in Hamilton and Clinton counties.

“This is a unique program. I’m not aware of anyone else who’s doing it,” Doug McGarry, executive director of the Dayton-based Area Agency on Aging: Planning and Service Area 2, said.

None of the nine counties in the service area, stretching from Montgomery County north into central Ohio, has such a transitional care services program, according to McGarry.

“We have not been able to get the additional dollars to do a program like that,” said McGarry said whose coverage area also includes Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Logan, Miami, Preble and Shelby counties.

While counties in this region rely on human-services levies to support senior and other social services, “citizens in Southwest Ohio see a need for senior services and are going to support such a levy,” McGarry added.

The Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio is expected to report back to the Warren County commissioners by October 2021 after serving 200 seniors coming home from rehabilitation or the hospital.

Staff will identify likely candidates “at bedside” and offer coaching once they get home. Home-medical equipment not otherwise offered through the agency will now be available through Fast Track Home Today.

“I’m not aware of any similar program in the country,” said Ken Wilson, vice president of program operations for the agency also serving Butler and Clermont counties. “We’re interested in expanding it.”

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Wilson indicated Butler County would be revisited after voters decided on renewal of the county levy in November.

The Warren County levy expires next year and a renewal will appear on the ballot.

The program was originated five years ago in Hamilton County and has been in place for four years in Clinton County, according to Wilson.

By getting to the recipients quickly, the program is designed to shorten stays in hospital and rehabilitation, and reduce the number of re-admissions, ultimately allowing more seniors to be served at a lower cost, Wilson said.

“The coaching skills help that progress along quicker,” Wilson said.

Warren County, which contracts with the Council on Aging for elder services, will pay $100,000 from levy reserves, the agency $108,000 in federal funding, to cover costs of the pilot program.

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Depending on health insurance and other support, the seniors can get transportation, meals and equipment for use in dealing with temporary or permanent infirmities.

The program eliminates delays of as much as 20 days in assessing needs and financial qualifications, Wilson said.

Warren County Commissioner Tom Grossmann questioned the need for the program, suggesting this should already be part of the system.

“Why couldn’t you do it more quickly?” Grossmann asked, suggesting the referrals could be handled by hospital staff.

Families might take advantage of the service, Grossmann said.

“I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen,” he added before voting to support the pilot.

Under the existing system, the Council on Aging is sometimes referred by care facilities or notified about existing clients, Wilson said. Otherwise it’s up to family members to reach out.

“We go out as quickly as we can,” he said, adding the agency was committed to operating within the existing 1.21-mill levy now collecting at about 1 mill or $35 a year per $100,000 in property valuation.

Wilson said the program was an example of the agency “looking for ways to stretch the money further.”

County Auditor Matt Nolan, part of the county’s advisory committee to the agency, said a $10 million levy surplus was the result of miscalculation of anticipated increases in elder service needs. He expressed support for Fast Track Home Today.

“I think it’s a great program,” Nolan said afterward.

During the meeting, Commissioner Dave Young said his mother failed to qualify for benefits.

“I know you do a wonderful job with thousands of other elderly folks,” Young added.

Commissioner Shannon Jones said “I think it makes some sense. And it’s a pilot.”

McGarry said problems with convincing seniors to enter nursing or assisted living centers due to COVID-19 concerns prompted him to contact Wilson last week about Fast Track Home Today.

“We are actually in the very early stages of looking at it,” he said.

The program McGarry envisioned wouldn’t meet the seniors at the hospital or rehab facility, but could help with short-term services they would need while heeling at home.

“What will it take to get a short-term program off the ground and where do we get the money?”

The Fast Track program was developed after passage of the Affordable Care Act as part of an initiative designed to encourage hospitals to pay for the transitional services or face Medicare penalties for re-admissions in less than 20 days, McGarry said.

Premier Health Partners, operator of Miami Valley Hospital and Atrium Medical Center, is looking into it.

“We are interested in exploring short-term, transitional care services programs with other partners. Such programs could provide temporary support to help older adults recover at home and prevent unnecessary re-admissions to hospitals or nursing facilities,” according to a spokesman.

Issues like transitional care services have become more pressing in the midst of efforts to control the spread of COVID-19.

“With this pandemic, all the weaknesses in the system become that much more exaggerated,” McGarry concluded.