CYNTHIANA, Kentucky – Home health care is invaluable to many Kentucky residents, especially those in rural areas, because it offers a range of services that can be performed in the comfort of one’s home in the event of an illness or injury.
what you need to know
- WEDCO has been providing home healthcare for almost 50 years
- District serves residents of Bourbon, Harrison, Nicholas and Scott counties
- The director says the main goal is the continuation of the service
- Only five health departments in Kentucky currently offer home health care
According to Medicare.gov, home care is typically cheaper, more convenient, and just as effective as visiting a family member in a hospital or qualified nursing facility. Residents of the WEDCO Health District’s coverage area of central Kentucky, which serves Harrison, Bourbon, Nicholas and Scott counties, recently sold their home health care division to for-profit Bluegrass Care Navigators (BCN), leaving WEDCO without health department-provided home health care lags behind services for the first time in 50 years.
“We’ve had home health care since the 1970s, and not every health department has an affiliated health agency,” said Crystal Miller, director of WEDCO Health. “The reason for this was that in communities that didn’t have home health care facilities, the health department would fill in the gaps. Although individual care, like home health services, is not a centralized public health service, the health department is one of those agencies that steps in and does so when there is a gap and need in the community.”
Miller said there are 61 health districts or departments in the Commonwealth, and when she joined WEDCO in 2007, only 24 of those offered home health. After WEDCO sold its home health care to BCN, it’s now five.
WEDCO Health Director Dr. Crystal Miller. (WEDCO)
“Over time, obviously, more private-sector home health facilities have come into the communities,” she said. “The reason health departments sell this service so often is because it is not a core public health service. It’s not something we’re mandated to do. It’s a very different business because there is a lot of travel, a lot of patient care.”
After a while, Miller said, money became a factor, too.
“Home health care used to be an income-generating service for us, but it got difficult when the pension problem hit Kentucky — 50% of health departments were about to close their doors when the pension problem hit,” she said. “Every health department started looking at things that they were doing but didn’t need to do. If we go back four years to when all this started, we started putting about $250,000 of our reserves into home health operations to zero. After four or five years you ask yourself what to do when the reserves are depleted.”
Miller said after $1 million was channeled into home health from WEDCO’s reserves, she began discussions with her health committee to get a plan and determine the future of home health. She said the board agreed to measure private sector interest.
“One of the things that the board has been adamant about is not disrupting patient care,” Miller said. “We want the services that are provided in our communities.”
After it became public knowledge that WEDCO was considering selling home health care, many people in the district who used those services began to worry about what that meant. Carla Courtney, from Cynthiana, was concerned that her mother-in-law, who has been in a wheelchair for almost 30 years, would suddenly have to see a doctor once a month or move to an assisted living facility.
“My husband’s mother has had home health care for 15 years,” Courtney said. “This is a very important program because otherwise many of these older people would have to go into nursing homes.”
Courtney said she was concerned when she heard WEDCO was selling home health.
“I think a lot of people were,” she said. “I’m sure Bluegrass Care Navigators will be fine, there will just be a small transition period. The alternative is that there is no home health here at all. My mother-in-law just turned 80. It’s not that easy to take her to the doctor and have blood drawn and stuff like that. It’s so much easier when they can come and do it, and it’s so much better for patients not having to keep driving to the doctor.”
Miller acknowledged that change is often difficult, but Bluegrass Care Navigators’ decision to retain many of WEDCO’s home health care workers will make the transition much easier.
“These staff have built that level of trust with patients,” she said. “Anything they tell you, they will agree to it. In the beginning it was a very difficult situation and there were rumors going around. We found that the information wasn’t getting back to the staff, and unless everyone is on board with it, these things get shaky.”
Call Bluegrass Care Navigators at 859-234-5090. Miller said they actively accept referrals to ensure WEDCO’s former patients receive the same care as WEDCO.