Home health care keeps millions of patients out of hospitals and nursing homes around the country. Through the efforts of the medical personnel employed by home health care agencies, patients can recover from illness or surgery, or learn to cope with chronic health problems in their own homes.
"Study after study shows patients heal better in their own environments," said Colleen O'Connor, director of the Payson Regional Medical Center Home Health Agency.
November is National Home Health Month, and it also was recently declared Arizona Home Health Care month. The PRMC Home Health Agency is the only service of its kind remaining in the Rim country and one of 62 Medicare-certified home health agencies in the state, which are currently serving 22,000 individuals.
"I'm really excited," O'Connor said. "(November has) been National Home Health Month for years. The governor signed a proclamation last month to make it Home Health Month in Arizona. It's really important to the governor. I believe she has had some personal experience with it. She is very pro home health."
O'Connor said she also is pleased that consumers now have a way to compare home health care providers through Medicare.
"Several years ago, Medicare came out with a (an Internet) site on nursing homes. Now consumers can go to www. medicare.gov and compare our services," O'Connor said. "Our goal is to keep patients out of hospitals and care centers."
The PRMC Home Health Agency has nine nurses on staff with a combined 249 years experience in nursing and 89 years in home health.
Last week the staff made 185 visits to patients, on average they make about 150 visits per week, O'Connor said.
O'Connor has been in the business of home health care for about 10 years, five of that with the PRMC program.
"A very persistent lady that I used to work with at Payson Care was running the program and she kept calling me, telling me I should come work with her. I finally gave in and I fell in love with it. It lets you spend quality time with your patients. I just love it. I don't think there is anything else I'd rather be doing."
In addition to being the program's administrator, O'Connor, a registered nurse, also does patient care.
The program has a registered nurse on call 24 hours, seven days a week. It is just incorporating private duty care into its services, providing someone to do shopping for patients and the time to just sit with them. There also are certified nursing assistants who provide light housekeeping services along with patient care such as bathing assistance.
For an individual to make use of the services provided by the PRMC Home Health Agency, their doctor must request the agency do an evaluation, O'Connor said. The agency personnel will make a visit and determine how much of what kind of care the patient needs and make a recommendation to the doctor. The individual's insurance determines the number of visits nurses can make, while with Medicare, the rules allow the number of visits as determined by the care needed.
"We have a fantastic, fabulous staff," O'Connor said, "I'd like the community to know that -- if they have not had the service. Our patients just love their nurses. I want to encourage people to visit the home health (website) to see the level of quality here."
To maintain the level of care they strive for, O'Connor said they encourage their patients to fill out the patient satisfaction surveys included in the paperwork used to register them with the service. She said they also like the patients to submit the "caring hearts" the hospital provides.
She said people sometimes have a mistaken idea that the nurses in the home health care service don't have skills as current as their counterparts in hospitals, nursing homes.
"We have three chemo-certified nurses," O'Connor said, and she is one of them, "The nurses are very highly qualified. We can do anything in the home."