Space Coast Health System Considers Expanding into Home Health Care

By Skyler Swisher, The Daytona Beach News-Journal

DAYTONA BEACH – Halifax Health is looking to expand into home health care, a move that hospital officials say is becoming increasingly necessary with health-care reform.

The Halifax Health Board of Commissioners is mulling acquiring a 50 percent stake in Council on Aging Home Health, a Daytona Beach-based nonprofit organization that provides care to seniors.

With upcoming policy changes, hospital officials say they will be penalized if patients are readmitted less than 30 days after being discharged.

Acquiring a stake in home health will allow the hospital to better control what happens after patients are discharged, improving the odds they won’t be readmitted, said Jeff Feasel, CEO of Halifax Health, the Daytona Beach-based hospital system that includes Halifax Health Medical Center of Daytona Beach and Halifax Health Medical Center of Port Orange.

“If they don’t get proper home care and follow-up care and they are back in the hospital, we are going to get dinged on our subsequent payments,” Feasel said during the hospital system’s May board meeting. “It’s going to be an indication on our quality scores.”

The Council on Aging is offering a 50 percent stake in its home-health operation in exchange for $200,000.

Under the deal’s terms, Halifax Health would take over the business’s management, overseeing clinical operations, human resources and accounting. The hospital would appoint three of the six members to the Council on Aging Home Health’s oversight board and receive 50 percent of the business’s revenue.

The service, which employs about 50 people, provides in-home nursing and physical therapy to senior citizens, said Doug Bell, executive director of the Council on Aging.

“We want, when possible, to allow seniors to remain independent in their home as long as they possibly can,” he said.

The group’s boards are only considering the matter, and nothing has been finalized, Beach said.

Halifax Health Board members questioned during their meetings whether the venture would be profitable.

Projections show the home health business would operate at a loss during the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years but begin turning a profit after that. Hospital officials say Halifax Health’s name recognition, ability to recommend outgoing patients consider home-health care and stepped-up marketing efforts would increase revenue.

A draft proposal includes a provision that would allow either Halifax Health or Council on Aging to exit the agreement without the approval of the other party, along with an option for Halifax Health to acquire the entire operation.

John Johnson, the board’s chairman, says Council on Aging’s reputation for community service, its nonprofit status and the deal’s favorable terms would make it an ideal partner, although he’s not opposed to looking at other possible partners.

“I think it’s better to belly up to the bar with someone like COA than a private firm where the bottom line is the bottom line — not quality care,” said Johnson, who is president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Commissioner Art Giles said the hospital should broaden its search and request more proposals to see what its options are. To him, it appears the hospital is treating Council on Aging as a “sole-source provider.”

“It seems like the prudent thing to do,” he said.

Thirty-eight home health agencies are operating in Volusia County, two of which are nonprofits, according to Halifax Health board minutes.

The board is expected to discuss the matter again at its June meeting.

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