As healthcare reform accelerates and accountability measures solidify, the role of the case manager in home care has taken on greater importance and urgency.
The Affordable Care Act has put more pressure on hospitals to control costs, improve transitions to home care and prevent readmissions. All of these things take a new level of coordination, which has opened the door for case managers. According to Margaret Leonard, RN-BC, MS, FNP, senior vice president for clinical services at Hudson Health Plan in Tarrytown, N.Y., “the opportunity is exploding.” Several factors are behind this, including:
• Primary care visits need home liaisons: “Now, if a [primary care provider]asks if you feel safe at home and you say ‘no, what do they do with that?” Leonard asked. Thats where the case manager comes in, she said, to follow up and check the conditions in the home, make sure patients understand what medications theyre taking and at what times, and know whom to call with questions.
• Hospitals face readmissions penalties: Starting Oct. 1, Medicare will begin deducting a maximum 1% in reimbursements for each claim if a patient is readmitted within 30 days for certain conditions. Hospitals in New York and New Jersey are among those that will be hit hardest by these penalties, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis. Coordinating care at home is a key to reducing these readmissions, Leonard said.
• Coordination of care is a top national priority: Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released six care priorities, one of which was better communication and coordination of care.
Certification a plus
Certification isnt needed to become a case manager in home care, Leonard said. Case managers just need to be licensed healthcare professionals.
“But when people look to hire staff, obviously if youre certified by one of the major certification bodies like the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the [Commission for Case Manager Certification], thats a plus,” she said. “If Im hiring case managers, I either want them to be certified or want them to agree that they will get certified as quickly as they can.”
Median salary for a case manager in home care in the U.S. is nearly $62,000, but about $72,000 in New York City and a little more than $71,000 in Newark, N.J., according to Salary.com.
Sherl Brand, RN, BSN, president, CEO and director of emergency preparedness for the Home Care Association of New Jersey, said the bulk of case manager hiring is with hospital-based home care.
“It appears that the hospital-based home care agencies are, in fact, hiring more case managers, with the focus of reducing rehospitalizations. Case managers are playing an integral role in helping patients understand their care,” she said.
The agencies not affiliated with hospitals do have case managers, but are not hiring currently, according to Brand.
“The oddity in all this is youve got the Affordable Care Act and at the same time youve got a funding system that tends to cut back on reimbursement for the home care sector,” Brand said. “At a time when agencies seek to expand their case manager capacity, theyre hard-pressed to do so because of funding cuts.”
Role has changed
Case managers work in homes and by managing remotely. At MJHS Home Care in New York, each case manager works with about 15-20 patients, said Silvia Rivera, RN, BSN, patient service manager.
Rivera said the role has expanded as healthcare reform demands have escalated, and case managers have to become experts in budgeting and crunching numbers to document quality measures and outcomes and reduce costs.
According to Rivera, case managers need to know whos driving the care, who the payors are, what care is covered under which insurance and what resources can be offered to patients who cant pay without jeopardizing their care.
Eliminating waste is essential, she said, and that includes aiming to reduce the number of nurse home care visits with better scheduling and coordinating care.
“Were really looking at how we can use the time and get as much done in one visit, instead of three visits,” Rivera said.
For example, a case manager could teach the patient or a family member to help change dressings to cut down on the number of nurse visits. Or a case manager can take extra steps to make sure a key family member shows up at a visit instead of having to add a visit to include that family member.
Case managers also are seeing sicker patients, Rivera said. In the past, patients were stable when they arrived in home care, she said, but increasingly “you find patients in home care like the patients you find on [a hospital]floor.”
So, she said, home care nurses are faced with both managing sicker patients and cutting costs of their care, which takes considerable coordination.
Aging population fuels need
Mary Gadomski, RN, BSN, director of community education at the Visiting Nurse Services in Westchester in White Plains, N.Y., said VNS is hiring more nurses in case manager roles, and the demand will go up with the aging population as people are needed to connect more complicated dots. Gadomski said more than half of Medicare beneficiaries have five or more chronic conditions, such as arthritis, cardiac or respiratory problems, diabetes and kidney disease. These patients often receive care from multiple physicians and in multiple sites. A failure to coordinate care can lead to patients not getting the care they need or receiving duplicative care.
Adding mental illnesses increases the need for coordination.
“One in five Medicare patients have a secondary or codiagnosis of a mental illness, such as depression,” she said.
Medication for one mental illness can affect the status of the chronic disease, so coordinating these medications and communicating a complete list to each physician becomes very important, Gadomski said.
Marcia Frellick is a freelance writer.