GOAL: REDUCE COSTS,
KEEP PATIENTS AT HOME
By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Changing Catskills Area Hospice & Palliative Care to Helios is about opening up a conversation.
“We found that the word ‘hospice’ was a barrier to conversation,” said CEO Dan Ayres. “When patients hear ‘hospice,’ they think they’re in their last days, not last month or year. They don’t want to have the conversation.
“Now, we’re more likely to have a conversation, which means we can help the person get care early on.”
The rechristened Helios board unveiled the new name and logo at a Tuesday, Oct. 8 ceremony at Foothills attended by over 100 people, including Dr. Yoshiro Matsuo, the Oneonta oncologist credited with founding the local hospice.
The logo, a sunflower and a heliotrope, signified the care and guidance Helios intends to give patients on their “most difficult journey in life.”
The unveiling was for much more than name and logo, Ayres said in an interview the morning of the unveiling.
“The point is,” he said, “we are now positioning ourselves to provide more service than just hospice care that will help the patient stay healthier longer and at home. And there will be a value to the system to pay us to do that.”
Helios’ plan is to expand Catskill Hospice from the three counties it covers now to the eight counties in the Bassett Network’s footprint.
It has negotiated a first-time agreements with Excellus/Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Utica to cover in-home care for an extended period, reducing patients’ more expensive visits to Primary Care, and much more expensive final care in Bassett’s ICUs.
Additionally, in 2021, Medicare is going to start paying for the capacity Helios is developing, Ayres said.
Expanding its potential patient base from 140,000 people in the three counties to 600,000 in eight counties will further reduce Helios’ costs, particularly overhead – administration, HR, tech and other centralized services.
Helios’ journey to the renaming ceremony began in 2017 when Ayres returned from West Virginia for his current job and observed a grim reality: The hospice care industry was in steep decline, especially in New York State.
“Seventy percent of the state’s hospices were losing money and we are one of them,” Ayres said. “We couldn’t keep doing the same thing the same way and expect to survive.”
The state ranked 49th in the country for hospice utilization, had the highest cost for Medicare, and had more people dying in ICUs than in any other state.
“At the same time, there is a tremendous demand for both hospice and palliative care here. Sixty percent of the state population has chronic diseases and 40 percent have two or more of them,” Ayres said. “And 23 percent of the population is 65 and older and enrolled in Medicare and Delaware is the fastest aging county in the state.”
But the average length of a hospice stay was 17 days.
So Catskill Hospice partnered with the Leatherstocking Collaborative Health Partners, a Bassett affiliate, on a year-long study giving 70 patients the service Helios intends to provide from here on out.
The results were astonishing, Ayres said.
“We had multiple health professionals do multiple acute care visits of the patients for a year and were able to reduce their acute-care utilization by 80 percent,” he said. “And we saw costs for their care – the most expensive type of care – go down 35 percent.”
The study ended in June, and the results has cause the new Helios to implement this new care and business model.
His staff, many of them new hires, go to patients’ homes to care for them, any day of the week instead of a Monday-Friday model.
Our nurses get great satisfaction in engaging one-on-one with patients and helping them in the most difficult times of their lives,” he said. “They are computer literate and engaged in innovation – the right people at the right time.”
The change was accompanied by a big reduction in overhead. Helios now has one office, on the River Street Extension, instead of six. And health insurers are paying Helios to care for patients because treating patients at home means fewer hospital visits, the most expensive component of healthcare.
“We can monitor patients’ health at home better than if they rely on a hospital for care,” said Ayres. “We help them take their medicine on time and check their blood pressure to see if they have hypertension, which can save a trip to the emergency room.”
Helios staff will also spot problems a hospital exam might not catch, such as food insecurity or burning wood to heat their homes.
“We can now give patients better care and a more seamless transition of care,” said Ayres.