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Healthy Homes to spark local interest

Posted on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Carla Potts has delivered an address on a program that could have national implications for hospitals, their patients and communities.

Potts, Deputy Director for Housing Development Programs at the not-for-profit North East Community Action Corporation (NECAC), spoke about the Healthy Homes Initiative at Rural LISC national conference June 5 through 7 in Washington, D.C.

“This is a topic that’s really gaining importance across the nation,” Potts said. “It’s one of those hot-button issues, and a lot of people want to hear about it.”

Healthy Homes grew out of a requirement in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. It slashed Medicare reimbursements to hospitals that had excessive 30-day readmissions for certain ailments, including respiratory problems.

At least two larger hospital groups in the St. Louis area lost more than $1 million in Medicare reimbursements last year due to the new requirement.

Violators received a reduction of one percent in 2012, but the rate climbed to two percent this year and will max out at three percent in 2014.

“There are a lot of hospitals that will be interested in Healthy Homes in the next few years,” Potts said. “It will really take off.”

NECAC has teamed up with the Community Action Agency of St. Louis County (CAASTLC) and SSM Healthcare, which owns, manages or is affiliated with hospitals in Missouri and three other states.

The Healthy Homes pilot program will last six months to a year; 15 homes in St. Charles County and 15 homes in St. Louis County will receive weatherization and case management services from NECAC and CAASTLC.

Weatherization services include mold and asbestos removal, improved insulation, window and door replacement, caulking and weather stripping, and new furnaces. Clients also will receive guidance on making their living environment healthier.

“We’re looking at not only fixing the house, but to change some lifestyle behaviors,” Potts said.

Most respiratory-care patients who may qualify will be referred by the SSM home health agency to NECAC and CAASTLC. No medical information, other than the already-determined diagnosis, will be shared. Patients may also request information directly from the Community Action Agencies.

The first referrals already have been made from SSM DePaul in Bridgeton, the oldest hospital west of the Mississippi River.

Potts said that winning the enthusiasm of the hospitals for the project was important.

“They’re big,” she said. “They don’t move easily, and this is something new. But we’ve unveiled our pilot and we’ve got the hospitals on board. Once they hear about the program, they like it.”

The Community Action Agencies and SSM will sit down while the pilot progresses to study its impact. Potts said that the savings hospitals see from the program could then be used to expand it.

“I hope that we inspire other people in other states to try what we’re doing,” she said. “Once we bring other hospitals on board across the nation, we will create a movement.”