Home health agencies say they’re desperate for more funding

Connecticut

HARTFORD (AP)– Representatives of Connecticut home care, hospice and home health agencies called on state officials Thursday to provide them with more funding, including a share of the state’s remaining federal COVID-19 relief money, warning they’re facing dire financial and staffing challenges.

The Connecticut Association for Healthcare at Home, whose member agencies provide services to nearly 20,000 state-funded residents, including the elderly and medically fragile children and adults, contends the home-based sector of the health care industry has been forgotten as state policymakers focused more attention on the nursing homes and group homes. Unionized workers at those facilities had threatened to strike unless they received greater wages, benefits and protections.

“We made our strong case to the legislature,” said Tracy Wodatch, president and CEO of the association during a news conference on the state Capitol steps. “Yet the (state) budget fell sorely short, failing to support us through additional Medicaid funding while choosing to invest significant dollars in nursing homes and group homes.”

In a statement, Wodatch said the two-year $46.3 billion budget “sent a strong negative message that home care is not a priority” even though the sector saved the state $508.4 million in fiscal year 2019 by helping people stay out of costly institutional settings.

Wodatch said her members are facing an “existential crisis,” with many providers reducing or stopping state-funded services altogether, given that home health care agencies have received a 1% increase in Medicaid funding from the state over the last 14 years. The group sent an “urgent request” for additional money in a letter on June 25 to the Department of Social Services and Office of Policy and Management, but has not yet received a response.

Messages were left seeking comment with OPM and Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s office on Thursday.

The agencies are seeking additional Medicaid funding and a share of the state’s federal COVID-19 relief funds to help cover the cost of wage and benefit enhancements, workforce development, recruitment and retention bonuses. Nurses and other staff are leaving home care agencies for better-paying jobs elsewhere, a trend that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic, according to the association.

“Facilities can now pay nurses as much as $10, $15 dollars per hour more than home health can,” said Coco Sellman, founder and CEO of Allume Home Care in Watertown, which specializes in helping medically fragile children and adults who require around-the-clock care. “Imagine that you are a single mom nurse. You can’t afford to take a $10 an hour pay cut.”

In the past 14 months, Sellman said her agency has lost 24% of its clinicians due to pandemic-related challenges, including nurses seeking higher pay elsewhere. In the meantime, she said, there are dozens of medically fragile children stuck waiting in hospitals because they require continuous skilled nursing to leave and there aren’t enough clinicians to provide the needed home care services.

“This is directly impacting the care of our current patients,” she said, “and has completely stopped our ability to take any new patients home from the hospital.”

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