There has been a kind of rift between the providers of home health care services available in the Rim Country.
"Sometimes we felt that hospice was taking away our clients," said Colleen O'Connor, director of the Payson Regional Medical Center's Home Health Services. "And I admit, up until recently I had some of those feelings. But that has changed. We are partners with hospice and palliative care in making sure no patient falls between the cracks."
It is not an official partnership -- there are no contracts -- it is more an alliance for the health care of the community. PRMC's Home Health Services and RTA Hospice & Palliative Care are in the early stages of coordinating their efforts to provide the best, most complete care possible for the patients receiving their services.
"For all of us, the patient comes first," said Kathleen Hughes, community liaison for RTA Hospice.
"There is a lot of fear associated with the word ‘hospice' among our patients, so we have tried not to mention it," O'Connor said. "But we want to start educating our patients and their families about hospice, if their condition warrants it."
This informal trinity of care would involve serving the community with the different areas of expertise.
- RTA Palliative Care personnel connect patients and their families with the social and community services available to those with chronic health conditions. They also serve as a patient's advocate -- for instance, getting them in to see a professional caregiver sooner than the patient may have been able to get an appointment on their own;
- PRMC Home Health Services stepping in when the condition needs skilled care and is keeping the patient homebound, if Medicare is the funding source for the care;
- RTA Hospice would come into the picture, if the patient's condition has deteriorated to the point of little or no chance of recovery.
To make the alliance as efficient and comprehensive as possible, there are plans to cross train personnel and educate the public as well.
"We want to create the safest, best transitions possible for patients," Hughes said.
"We are not in competition," O'Connor said. "In home health, a patient must show improvement or they must be discharged from the service to either a caregiver or other service."
"In hospice, we monitor and manage pain, but take no aggressive measures," Hughes explained.
Louise Tjernagle, director of nurse services for hospice, has worked in both home health and hospice.
"To receive hospice care, a patient must be generally homebound, except for such things as going out for therapeutic services, which can include going to the beauty shop or barber, church, that sort of thing, as well as medical therapy," Tjernagle said. "Home health works to make a patient better, hospice provides care through the end of life."
"The goal of this alliance is to see that every patient gets the care they are entitled to and deserve," Hughes said.