Now What !?

At 7:30am on Wednesday, November 9th I received a Helen of Troy type text message: three simple words from a client that begged a thousand responses, simply asking, “now what?”

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few Trump Winsweeks you are aware that healthcare in the United States is once again heading into turbulent policy waters with the election of a president whose political party has very different ideas about how to improve our healthcare delivery system. Or so we have been led to believe.

From what little is known to this point it is unlikely the Trump Administration will just blow up the Affordable Care Act in the first 100 days of its tenure. That is fortunate because, irrespective of your political beliefs, haphazardly dismantling the current system would undoubtedly result in unintended – and politically undesirable – consequences, potentially causing harm to millions of patients and healthcare providers.

That being said, there is no doubt substantial changes will be made and quickly by Washington, DC standards. If anything is predictable about Mr. Trump it is that he won’t be patient with bureaucratic efforts not quickly producing tangible results. Whether that impatience can be channeled into effective change management in a kingdom that literally thrives on maintaining the status quo only time will tell.

The next six months are going to be incredibly confusing and confrontational as we seek to consider and understand the potential ramifications of new health policy proposals. Speculation on the impact of such proposals will span from certain and imminent catastrophe to unbridled joy. Through it all be reminded that often in many ways the more things change the more they stay the same. To that point, in helping senior living organizations anticipate how to best position for changes in healthcare policy I think it is more prudent than ever to focus on what we know won’t change.

The accelerating demand for affordable housing, home and community-based services and healthcare resulting from the demographic realities of an aging population will not change. Underlying pressures such as technology and innovation driving up healthcare costs will not change. The growing impact of consumerism on healthcare will not change. Demand for qualified human caregiving resources outstripping supply will not change. The increasing burden chronic disease management puts on our delivery system will not change. I’m sure you can think of your own realities to add.

If you aggregate all of the environmental certainties shaping the healthcare industry today and in the future, logic dictates that value will continue to be at the center of new policy initiatives. And that means alternative payment models (APMs) will continue to garner support if not greater efforts to accelerate their adoption. Recall, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) provides substantial incentive for physicians to migrate into advanced APMs, and that legislation was passed by Congress with overwhelming bipartisanship. MedPAC, the nonpartisan legislative branch agency that provides Congress with analysis and policy advice on the Medicare program has also been very supportive of APMs.

So when answering the question, “now what?” my response is to continue developing organizational attributes that will build competitive advantage as a participant in APMs. Focus on the no regret investments that build enterprise value in the context of emerging care delivery models: e.g., demonstrating a commitment to continuous quality improvement; assess the value of specialization; improve productivity and reduce costs without impacting outcomes; develop an employee value proposition; build a robust cost accounting system; focus on beneficial referral relationships; measure and report on performance; invest in community-based downstream relationships.

A great way to learn more about what APMs entail – and to stay ahead of emerging research, ideas and discussion about their advancement – is to join the Healthcare Payment Learning & Action Network (HCPLan). This is a nonprofit organization that was launched by the Department of Health & Human Services in March of last year with a mission, “to accelerate the health care system’s transition to alternative payment models by combining the innovation, power, and reach of the private and public sectors.”

On October 25th of this year I had the opportunity of attending the fall LAN Fall Summit in Washington. The Summit brought together nearly 800 participants representing senior leaders from across the health care community, including providers, payers, employers, patients, consumer groups, health experts, and state and federal government agencies.

Here’s the singular most important message that I would like to share from my participation there: alternative payment models are not unicorns. They exist, they are being tested, learned from and gaining increased support daily. They are transcending the ideological spectrum of political discourse. The advance toward APMs is accelerating, and as shared above I do not see that being at all abated by the results of this presidential election. I can see the opposite effect taking shape.

Sadly, I believe there will come a time in the not too distant future when many nonprofit and smaller senior living organizations that depend upon post-acute/long-term care revenue for survival will find their organizations have waited until the decision of whether or not to participate in APMs has been taken out of their hands. For profit organizations are investing millions in learning how to compete and win under alternative payment models. If your organization is not taking steps to be equally competitive, then I would focus your energies instead on building acquisition value.

The first step in determining whether and how your organization can be competitive in a world of value-based care delivery models is to perform a gap assessment: what attributes must you have to compete under APMs compared to your organizational current state – and what investments are required to bridge that gap? Do you have the financial wherewithal to make those investments? How much time do you have to effectuate change?

That’s now what.

Cheers,
  ~ Sparky

What Interested Me About Senior Living?

040111.01TearoffSheetI have written this brief essay in response to a fund-raising effort for the cure of Alzheimer’s disease. Several of us were asked by Symbria colleague, Dr. Lori Stevic-Rust, to respond to the question, how did you become interested in the senior living industry?

The Symbria Advisory Services team is sponsoring Lori’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s®, the nation’s largest event to raise awareness and funds to fight Alzheimer’s disease. Please click on the pic above to join us in sponsoring her efforts!

What Interested Me About Senior Living?

Candidly like many people, I’m not sure it was my interest that got me started.

I was a young man with a young family and just trying to make a living. What interested me most at that time was a steady paycheck and the hopeful ability to grow into a career – whatever that meant. What caused me to stay in senior living for the past 25 years – now that I think might be worth sharing.

To me, one of the greatest advantages of being a management consultant in the senior living industry is performing site visits. Being able to travel around the country and tour different communities in different geographies; seeing the good, the bad and the regrettable. Being reminded of the work direct caregivers do every day and that mine, at best, is a supporting role backstage.

On one such occasion I found myself in New Jersey at a senior living community near to the Atlantic Ocean. It was late afternoon on a clear winter’s day, and shadows from the trees outside were inching their way across the lobby floor. I sat there admiring the beauty of a crisp, amber sky, satisfied I had completed a good day’s work. I only needed to touch base with one more staff person, and I would be on my way – back to the hotel to write up my notes and then off to explore the local area.

As I was waiting there a couple was approaching from down a long hallway toward me. They were of an age where I surmised they could be (likely were) residents of this assisted living community. Maybe they were heading out to do some exploring too. I felt happy that I had some small part in this image – part of an industry that provided a secure, caring and loving environment for this couple. That they could enjoy the fullness that life had to offer together in the twilight of their lives.

They were holding hands as they came down the hall, and as they grew closer I noticed the woman had a somewhat distant expression – a mix of forlorn and bewilderment. Her partner’s expression seemed to be one of melancholy and concern, yet stoic determination. His shoulders were a bit slouched, and I don’t know why but I did not think it owing simply to an aging posture.

There were clearly some emotional undertones here that made me quickly challenge my exploration hypothesis. Then as they neared the door it dawned on me the woman wasn’t dressed near appropriately enough to be going outside on this frigid afternoon in mid-February.

That’s because she wasn’t. And then what followed was a scene that has yet to be eclipsed in my mind by any other for its sheer heartbreaking sadness and poignancy. I can still hear their words as if they were spoken only yesterday.

“Bill, take me home . . . take me home, Bill . . . Bill, this isn’t my home . . . I want to go home, Bill . . . please, Bill! Why won’t you take me home?”

“It’ll be okay, Alice . . . it’ll be okay . . . you’re going to be fine . . . I will see you tomorrow, I promise.”

The elderly gentlemen tried earnestly, with the calmest and most serene expression as tears were welling up in his eyes to explain why this was her home now. This was, “where she needed to be.” He was unable to leave without the assistance of an aide having to gently redirect his wife. I glanced over at the receptionist who, like me, had sat silently taking this all in – wondering whether she could see I was fighting back tears. Her own only made my efforts more impossible.

The separation we had witnessed was like what one might observe at a daycare or preschool between child and parent. I would guess the relative emotions might be quite similar too: fear, anger, regret, sadness. But when a parent or guardian shows up in the afternoon, the reunion is a joy to see: an emotional reversal, all secure in the knowledge the family will be reunited at home that evening.

Bill’s wife was not going home. She had Alzheimer’s disease, and though Bill had tried to care for her at home he was unable to do so without risking injury to her or himself. She was, “where she needed to be.” Quite obviously, she was not where anyone wanted her to be.

I once had a colleague who owned several assisted living properties share with me something he regularly explained to his sales staff. He would tell them, “never forget, that even on your most successful sale it is most likely your customer will not be getting what they want.” They want to stay home. Alice wanted to stay at home.

There are some five million individuals in the United States like Alice. This is a tough industry to work in when you take to heart the challenges these individuals, their families and caregivers face every day in the communities I am lucky enough to assist. And the challenges associated with Alzheimer’s disease are right up there at the top.

I could never do the work of the caregivers that labor tirelessly to ease whatever burden they can of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and their families. So I do what I am able: try and help ensure their working environment is as unencumbered, encouraging and helpful as it might be. If I can do that, then I feel like I am contributing what I can – and that is why I have stayed in the senior living industry for the past 25 years.

Cheers,
  ~ Sparky

A Business Case for Community-Based Care

BTBCPub Patrons:

I want to share with you a new publication that my professional colleague, Lori Peterson, played a significant role in drafting along with a member of her team at Collaborative Consulting, Sarah Milgrom. Based in good part on information generated as a result of a symposium hosted a year ago by the National Coalition on Care Coordination (N3C) this is an excellent resource underpinning the core value propositions of community-based care – and a great place to start understanding how to put integrated care delivery theory into practice.

The following is republished with permission:

New N3C Issue Brief:
Building the Business Case

The National Coalition on Care Coordination (N3C) is pleased to share our new brief, "Building the Business Case: Community Organizations Responding to the Changing Healthcare Environment for Aging Populations."

At the March 2014 American Society on Aging’s Aging in America conference, N3C hosted a half-day symposium titled Building the Business Case: Responding to the Changing Environment for the Aging Network.” With the support of The SCAN Foundation, N3C has partnered with Collaborative Consulting to create an issue brief that highlights and builds on the symposium presentations and discussions, in order to share the lessons learned with a broader audience.

The brief explores tactics for community-based aging service organizations (CBOs) to be successful in the midst of changes in the healthcare and social service sectors and increased demand for comprehensive services from the growing aging population. As more and more CBOs begin to navigate the healthcare landscape, it is important for them to learn from the experience of those who have already begun the complex process of asking critical questions of themselves and their organizational structure, crafting a strategy to lead their organizations forward, and developing working relationships and mutually-beneficial agreements with payers and health systems.

We hope that you will share this brief widely with your networks. Please
reach out to us with any follow-up questions or comments that you may have. Many thanks to Collaborative Consulting and The SCAN Foundation for their partnership on this project!

Cheers,
 
~ Sparky

National Study of Long-Term Care Providers

National Study of Long-Term Care ProvidersFor those policy wonks out there looking for resources to support your work here is a phenomenal publication that you need to be familiar with. The National Study of Long-Term Care Providers is sponsored by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. Data, information and analysis is presented in an integration fashion that is designed to monitor trends in paid, regulated long-term care.

Five sectors are included:

Adult day service centers and participants
Home health agencies and patients
Hospices and patients
Nursing homes and residents
Residential care communities and residents

The main goals of the study are to:

Estimate the supply and use of paid, regulated long-term care services
Estimate key policy-relevant characteristics of providers and users, and practices of providers
Produce national and state-level estimates, where possible
Make comparisons within and between sectors
Examine trends over time

And not just policy wonks will benefit from the depth of knowledge and information provided by this initiative. Those in the senior housing and post-acute/long-term care business will benefit by having insights and understanding of utilization patterns, disease incidence, clinical and operational characteristics – across provider types. As the industry transcends away from its silo-based legacy toward the integration of community support, services and care across organizations having an understanding of how these provider types can work together to provide greater value will be a fundamental requirement to economic survival.

Cheers,
  ~ Sparky

Only Innovation Will Reduce Readmissions

Body, Mind, Soul, And Spirit ConceptAs reported on yesterday in Kaiser Health News, over 2,600 US hospitals – the most to date – will have their average Medicare reimbursement rates reduced over the period October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015, due to the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program. The overall reduction is projected to realize $428 million in savings to Medicare – i.e., translated as lost revenue to hospitals.

For anyone still unfamiliar with the reductions program, in a nutshell it is an attempt to use public policy to achieve more efficient alignment between patent care requirements and the overall cost of care provided – particularly to the extent costs are driven by care setting. Or, more pragmatically, Medicare does not want to pay the comparatively higher overhead costs associated with acute care settings if a patient’s readmission to that setting could have been avoided.

Of course, there’s the rub that will eventually have to be reconciled if the program is to remain: can we really objectively and often times arbitrarily determine what’s avoidable? The primary reason this is so difficult is because of the myriad environmental considerations that impact patient recovery and sustainable treatment away from the acute care setting. Where someone lives (housing), their neighborhood, their human support network, access to transportation, cognitive state and capacity for engagement, recognition of comorbid considerations such as anxiety and depression – the list goes on.

Hospitals and their clinical teams are taking the readmission program seriously. A three-percent reduction in revenue from your largest source when you are already struggling with narrow margins has that effect. New efforts to forge relationships with post-acute/long-term care providers, patient communication strategies, multi-provider think tanks, post-discharge follow-up programs, transitional care planning, utilization of telehealth and telemonitoring technology, targeted disease intervention – these primarily represent the extension, or repurposing, of core clinical capabilities.

Not to discount the importance of these initiatives, but by and large there is nothing all that innovative here when compared to the fundamental nature of the problem we are trying to solve. And there is a limited ability to address the fundamental challenge driving hospital readmissions: the environmental obstacles shared above. Worse yet, these tactical approaches fail to embrace the holistic reality that is patient treatment and recovery.

That’s where innovation efforts have to be focused: not on keeping someone out of the hospital but on removing the environmental obstacles that drive readmissions as a consequence of undesirable recovery and sustainability. As Toby Cosgrove, President and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic wrote earlier this week, “as my friend Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School says, innovation is the only solution to … long term issues faced by American healthcare.”

And it will ultimately be the only solution to lowering hospital readmissions.

Cheers,
  ~ Sparky

Culture Change at the Core of QAPI

This past Friday I attended the 2014 Katz Policy Lecture at the Benjamin Rose Institute. Peter Kemper, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Health Policy, Administration and Demography from Pennsylvania State University gave the lecture on Expanding Culture Change to All Nursing Homes: Challenges and Policy Approaches.

Professor Kemper acknowledged early on what is often the opening salvo of critics of culture change – that defining exactly what it is can be a formidable challenge. In fact, as he noted, it may be preferable to think of culture change as a movement instead of a model. This perception would be consistent with the concept of continuous quality improvement where it is recognized that while operational perfection is inherently unachievable, evidence shows its pursuit drives measurably better outcomes.

Cutting through the theory and research, at its core culture change is the ability to create an organizational environment in which individuals are empowered, trusted and valued: and this must be true for both patients and the workforce caring for them. What does this look like? Well, in listening to the lecture I found that we need look no further than the five elements of Quality Assessment Performance Improvement (QAPI).

Element 1: Design and Scope: Culture change can only take place if there is a shared commitment to be cognizant and aware of how each individual’s role and responsibilities support achievement of the organization’s future state vision. To accomplish this there must be an understanding and pragmatic recognition that the approach needs to be comprehensive, inclusive and constantly evolving.

Element 2: Governance and Leadership: It is the organizational leadership’s primary responsibility to create the environment by owning (without controlling) the design and scope process, while the role of governance is to ensure sustainability and accountability of that environment once created.

Element 3: Feedback, Data Systems & Monitoring: The old adage of you can’t manage what you can’t measure, however incomplete in its ability to capture the full essence of organizational behavior, nonetheless is the primary means of incenting desired behavior while discouraging unwanted behavior (i.e., accountability). This must be a fundamental element of culture change, particularly from the standpoint of sustainability.

Element 4: Performance Improvement Projects: The key concepts attributable to culture change here are prioritization and ability to impact. The important nuance that many PA/LTC organizations have difficulty understanding is that PIPs don’t have to be directed retrospectively. They can (and should) be borne out of a comprehensive design and scope process (i.e., Element 1). This is a key element of intersection between culture change and QAPI programming that must be embraced and understood.

Element 5: Systematic Analysis and Systemic Action: Socrates noted that, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I contend that an organization committed to culture change will continuously assess and examine whether and how well it is able to achieve its vision while fulfilling its mission and always reflecting its core values. This brings us full circle to the concept of continuous quality improvement noted at the beginning of this post.

As Professor Kemper also noted during his lecture, there is nothing necessarily innovative or revolutionary about culture change in PA/LTC. My observation is that it is really a matter of borrowing – or adopting – proven best practices of organizational behavior from other industries and research that dates back to the early 1900s. But going from theory and research to realized benefit takes the type of leadership that isn’t as easy to import. That’s where a lot more work needs to be done before either culture change or QAPI can achieve meaningful and lasting improvement in patient outcomes and life enrichment of the individuals served.

Cheers,
  Sparky

 

 

Picture Credit: Provider Magazine

What’s Your Performance Improvement Strategy?

If you are a post-acute/long-term care provider still sitting on the sidelines waiting for a clearer understanding of how Healthcare Reform is going to impact your organization’s future, well then all I can say is, “Good luck with that – let me know how it works out for you.”

In an article published this past weekend (Medicare Seeks to Curb Spending On Post-Hospital Care), Kaiser Health News’s Jordan Rau reported on the wide variability in Medicare spending on post-hospital care across the county – and the attention that it is getting from CMS. Attention that is quickly turning to targeting: as in even more deeper cuts in reimbursement.
Several of the examples included:

Medicare recipients in Connecticut are more than two-times more likely to be admitted to a nursing home than residents in Arizona.

Medicare spends an average of $8,800 on a patient’s home healthcare in Louisiana – while spending $3,800 in New Jersey.

The rate at which beneficiaries receive post-acute services covered by Medicare in Chicago is three times the rate in Phoenix.

And the aggregate economic impact of variability in per capita spending is substantial. As the growth in post-65 age cohorts continues to accelerate both the inherent cost contribution (demand) as well as cost-push inflation (a result of seeking to satisfy that demand with scarce resources) is increasing. As reported in the Kaiser article, Medicare spending on PA/LTC, “has grown at 5 percent a year or faster in 34 of the nation’s 50 most populous hospital markets in recent years.”

The article goes on to describe the perceived reasons behind the variability that has captured CMS’s attention:

Misaligned incentives: Hospitals have not historically been economically impacted by the consequences of post-hospital care delivery, while PA/LTC providers have been incentivized to drive utilization based upon maximizing reimbursement rather than the appropriateness of the setting.

Information asymmetry: Very often PA/LTC referrals are a function of personal relationships and familiarity between those responsible for discharge planning and those responsible for marketing available beds.

Provider ambiguity: The evolution and confusion that today characterizes post-acute care services and settings (and the impact technology is having on care settings – e.g., telemedicine) often impairs market competition.

Lack of care coordination: While post-discharge readmissions have captured the popular media’s attention because of the ACA payment penalty, it’s the underlying lack of care coordination between acute and PA/LTC providers that results in cost inefficiencies extending well beyond avoidable readmissions.

These concerns, taken together with other indicators of potential waste and inefficiency (please refer to the article cited), will drive tremendous pressure in the years ahead to lower Medicare post-hospitalization expenditures (thus the chainsaw metaphor). How PA/LTC providers address these pressures will mean the difference between staying in business – or not.

BACK TO VALUE
When thinking about performance improvement as a vehicle to address this challenge remember this: more than any other singular criteria, successful PA/LTC organizations that survive the next decade will have learned to trade on value. Value in healthcare is quite simply the patient’s satisfaction with the care delivery experience divided by the cost to provide that experience (with the notable understanding that a patient’s satisfaction is typically augmented by their families’ satisfaction). With or without the Affordable Care Act, that is where the industry is headed.

But what does it mean to, “trade on value?” To help Pub visitors begin thinking about that I have provided a few fundamental questions that you might want to ponder – or discuss with colleagues:

  1. What’s most in demand?
    If Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers were to evaporate tomorrow, what core service offerings that you provide would be the most likely to still generate revenue? What distinguishes those services from others?
  2. Where do we fit in the care continuum?
    Forget the fancy charts and graphics of think tanks and consultants showing you where you fit. Think about the patients you care for every day from the perspective of their overall care experience: where does your organization provide the greatest value to that patient’s recovery along the care continuum?
  3. Who wants to work with us?
    How do potential partners in your market determine their value? Based on that understanding, can you enhance their value? What are the risks that you would lower it? Can you effectively address those risks?

  4. How do we protect and enhance our core value?
    In healthcare, more than any other industry, the innate ability to produce value is primarily attributable to direct caregivers. What should you be doing today to ensure you protect that most valuable resource? And what should you be doing tomorrow to help those caregivers increase the value you provide to patients?


    Cheers,
      Sparky

QAPI ~ Ready (or Not?)

2013-01-09_14251sI have been receiving a fair amount of anecdotal intelligence that many post-acute/long-term care providers are not at all prepared to implement the Affordable Care Act’s QAPI when (still waiting . . . ) those regulations ultimately get published. So I thought sharing this post again might be useful.

Section 6102(c) of the Affordable Care Act – Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement Program (or QAPI) requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (as delegated to CMS) to, “establish and implement a quality assurance and performance improvement program …” and to, “…establish standards relating to quality assurance and performance improvement with respect to [nursing] facilities and provide technical assistance to facilities on the development of best practices in order to meet such standards.“

Last Friday CMS released a memorandum to state survey agency directors announcing the rollout of electronic assistance and compliance-oriented materials on the QAPI website. HHS/CMS has still not yet published the condition of participation regulation that will provide nursing facilities with compliance guidance (facilities were to have already been compliant in March of this year), but there already exists comparable regulations for other healthcare provider types that will serve as a template. Once that regulation is finally published nursing care providers will have one year to develop an acceptable QAPI plan.

QAPI compliance for nursing facilities is not entirely new. The nursing facility QAPI is based in part on existing Quality Assessment and Assurance (QA&A) regulations. However, the new planning and reporting provision significantly expands the level and scope of QAPI activities that nursing facilities must enact in order to ensure they continually identify and correct quality deficiencies as well as sustain performance improvement.

It is a tad ironic that in promoting a key differentiator between historic, traditional quality assurance – now being coupled with performance improvement – that while quality assurance is to be viewed as a requirement and reactive, performance improvement should be viewed as discretionary and proactive. Never mind that performance improvement is being mandated as part of the QAPI program. Sort of like being able to choose any whole number between zero and two, right?

Anyway, I really fear that for a lot of nursing facilities – particularly smaller and/or single site organizations – this requirement is going to sneak up on them. And the true impact of that reality will not just be the regulatory and economic consequences but the lost opportunity to utilize the QAPI process to drive better quality, higher safety and better outcomes – while lowering the overall cost of care.

There are two ways to view the new QAPI requirement: another onerous regulation designed to burden caregivers with unnecessary compliance requirements at additional cost; or an opportunity to sponsor and embrace a process that – if done strategically and conscientiously – should improve productivity and efficiency while strengthening market position based on quality and outcome characteristics.

So my counsel is don’t wait for the regulation to be promulgated. Start now to learn and understand the tools that have already been made available. CMS has stated that, once provided, the QAPI formal regulation will not contradict the materials that have already been developed and provided.

And for those organizations that are truly interested in taking a strategic approach to developing a continuous quality improvement system that has the complimentary advantage of combining regulatory compliance with value-driven financial performance, please review the white paper that I drafted with colleague Nathan Ives of StraegyDriven Consulting, Aligning Healthcare Organizations: Lessons in Improved Quality and Efficiency from the Nuclear Power Industry.

Cheers,
  Sparky

Accepting the Realities of Aging

head-in-sand . . . or not.  The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research last week released the report, Perceptions, Experiences and Attitudes among Americans 40 or older. Sponsored by the SCAN Foundation, the report presents research based upon interviews of just over 1,000 individuals aged 40 and older regarding their views on aging.

From a public policy perspective, the key takeaway underscores a phenomenon common to discussion and debate over how to finance the future long-term care needs of an aging population. At a time in our lives when we are at our peak earning potential we typically also have the highest propensity to spend – quite often as a necessity of family survival. The past half-decade has heightened further that reality for many of us.

Of those interviewed, fully 30% would rather just not think about aging – while an additional 32% were only somewhat comfortable thinking about getting older. Not surprisingly, there was an apparent correlation between being more comfortable (I would posit, willing) to think about and discuss aging and the respondent’s age. Ailments and infirmities tend to be quite effective at breaking down one’s belief in mind over matter as a plausible substitute for the elusive fountain of youth.

In what I interpret as a perceptual vote of no confidence in government’s ability to effectively address the looming cost crisis attendant to long-term care, 51% of interviewees between the ages of 40 and 54 – and 48% between the ages of 55 and 64 – are a great deal or quite a bit concerned about affording the long-term care they may require as they age. This is compared to only 30% of those over the age of 65 (i.e., Medicare eligible) who share the same concern.

Whether that represents a false sense of security or not, it is worth noting the research also highlighted the continuing misperceptions that many individuals have regarding their probability of needing future long-term care, its costs, programs available to provide assistance and how to plan for future needs. For those directly involved in providing long-term care services and support those perceptions are accepted realities.  But for those in positions of public policy influence and responsibility the consequential understanding of those realities is a lot less clear.

Of course, I am thinking of the Commission on Long-Term Care, which pursuant to Section 643 of the Taxpayer Relief Act, is charged with developing, “a plan for the establishment, implementation, and financing of a comprehensive, coordinated, and high-quality system that ensures the availability of long-term services and supports for individuals in need of such services and supports, including elderly individuals, individuals with substantial cognitive or functional limitations, other individuals who require assistance to perform activities of daily living, and individuals desiring to plan for future long-term care needs.”"

There is widespread belief that a key element of any successful plan should include efforts to create greater awareness and education surrounding the individual realities of long-term care. The research shared above serves to underscore that belief. What is largely unknown, however, is whether such investments are worthwhile. We have so far seen the relatively disappointing results of investments in health and wellness (as an aside, I wonder whether Senator Harkin has seen that research).

Sometimes things that seem to be intuitively correct are disproved by empirical evidence. The failure of long-term care insurance to gain greater traction may be an indicator that education and awareness regarding the need to plan for long-term care will have a limited ability to overcome the strong human inclination to stay in the moment.

Since it is also true, however, that intuition often bears fruit only through successive efforts to overcome obstacles, I do believe education and awareness, along with wellness and prevention, should continue to be encouraged from a healthcare and long-term care public policy perspective.  In making those investments, however, programs with tighter feedback loops that help measure relative effectiveness are not only prudent but will help accelerate the desired outcomes of those investments.

Cheers,
  Sparky

A Failure to Communicate

ht_lorraine_bayless_nt_130304_wg2The topic of End-of-Life Care took another turn on February 26th with the passing of Mrs. Lorraine Bayless (pictured left) at Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield, California.  As I write this, there is still a lot of conflicting information circulating on the Internet about what happened that day and why.  And there is certainly no shortage of opinions about what went wrong – or not. There also appears to be a great deal of misunderstanding on what a CCRC is, what services and care are provided – and what care responsibilities a CCRC has to its independent living residents.

There are elements of this story that, if for no other reason than respect for Mrs. Bayless’ family, should remain with this story – i.e., primarily an assessment of Glenwood Gardens’ policies and procedures. But there are also elements of this story that transcend our need to better understand and assess models of care relative to individual rights and end-of-life care. It is in the latter interest I offer this post.

Last August, I wrote a post, CCRCs: Healthcare Providers – Or Not? I wrote then,
for a segment of the senior population, typically over the age of 75, CCRCs are a very attractive retirement housing option. They offer the comfort and security of a community tailored to meet the physical and emotional needs of seniors, the social energy of a community setting and the critically important peace of mind that personal services, assistance and care are available, when and if needed, removing that potential caregiving burden from their adult children raising families of their own.”

Ah, but there’s the rub that I think this story will eventually wind its way towards: what constitutes, “when and if needed?” And who gets to decide when and if its needed? On the afternoon of February 26th at Glenwood Gardens, the 87-year old Mrs. Bayless clearly needed assistance if she were to have a chance to live (it was subsequently determined by her physician that she passed away from a massive stroke, most likely owing to what had been previously diagnosed as disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain).

Many of the news stories I have read characterize Mrs. Bayless’ residence as being independent living – as if it were conceptually unique and separate from the other offerings at Glenwood Gardens; i.e., assisted living, nursing care, Alzheimer’s/dementia care and hospice. While there is physical separation between the facilities providing these services and care, the underlying market positioning of a CCRC is their availability on a single campus.

The overt selling point being that someone does not have to move from the campus when and if they need services and care that extend beyond what is available through independent living. In fact, Glenwood Gardens’ website promotes having 24-hour access to staff. Whether this can be interpreted as having access to emergency medical care provided by nursing staff in other areas of the CCRC I think is going to get a lot of discussion and debate.

I think the more immediate questions here, however, are first, whether Mrs. Bayless would have wanted life-saving efforts performed.  In statements afterwards her family seemed to indicate she would not, though Mrs. Bayless did not have any advance directives in place, and the paramedics that arrived on the scene ultimately provided CPR in any event.  And second, would CPR, if started earlier, have been helpful. Very often, CPR is ineffective in such situations – and when it is effective in reviving a frail elderly person it can often result in terrible injury, leaving the individual incapacitated and facing a prolonged and painful death.

As challenging and difficult as they are, it would be nice to think these were the questions guiding management’s and staff’s decision making of that afternoon. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.  In a statement, Brookdale Senior Living, owner of Glenwood Gardens, said, “this incident resulted from a complete misunderstanding of our practice with regards to emergency medical care for our residents. We are conducting a company-wide review of our policies involving emergency medical care across all of our communities.”

When the dust finally settles I think  what we will find is a failure to communicate on multiple levels and between multiple parties. If Mrs. Bayless’ wishes were clearly understood by her family, why was a DNR order not in place? If management at Glenwood Gardens understood corporate policy and procedure, why is Brookdale Senior Living now leaving them out to dry? If the staff at Glenwood Gardens clearly understood policy, why was the person on the 911 call seeking the input of others to affirm her position?

So the key takeaway I have from this story and all of the opinions surrounding it is that it reinforces the critical importance of effective communication – and how very often its lacking stands in the way of better healthcare. The same core ability that must be a critical element of any strategic planning effort we engage in with leadership teams at healthcare provider clients is just as applicable to any effort that involves human beings for which there are expectations those individuals will work together to achieve desirable results.

As I have written before, it is truly amazing that today we live in a world where communication has never been easier – yet never been more difficult.

Cheers,
  Sparky

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