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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ohio's home health system offers protections for seniors and families

Suzanne Burke
Suzanne Burke, Council on Aging CEO

An Oct. 27 article in The Cincinnati Enquirer, “Are lax regulations putting seniors at risk?,”  erroneously left the impression that the home health care system in Ohio is unregulated. As the CEO of Council on Aging, which administers publicly-funded home care programs, I must point out that this is definitely not the case for programs regulated by Ohio’s Department of Health, Department of Medicaid, Department of Aging and Department of Developmental Disabilities.  It is also not the case for the county levy-funded Elderly Services Programs, administered by Council on Aging.

The article unfortunately painted all home health care with one brush, when in reality, there are differences.  Home health care to older persons and individuals with disabilities can be provided under Medicaid, Medicare, state programs, local tax levy programs, via private pay or covered under private insurance.

Under Ohio law, providers who employ direct service workers must conduct criminal background checks in programs regulated by the departments listed above.  The law was recently expanded to require, among other things, criminal background checks of existing employees every five years.

PASSPORT is one of the programs mentioned in the article.  PASSPORT is a Medicaid waiver program that enables low income seniors to live out their lives in their own homes and communities and avoid unnecessary placement in nursing homes.  It is regulated by the federal government, and by the Ohio Departments of Medicaid and Aging.  More than 3,000 seniors in Council on Aging’s five-county region benefit from PASSPORT, not to mention the help it provides to their family caregivers. PASSPORT has consistently received high marks from the people it serves, including a 99% satisfaction rate in 2011.  

Council on Aging contracts with home health agencies and other service providers that must meet standards, including training requirements, in order to join its provider network.   Providers are monitored through case management oversight and monitoring visits, which include reviewing employee files for background checks, testing and training.  In the Elderly Services Programs, providers may only join the network via competitive bidding. They must meet high measures for quality, which we monitor closely. Our region is also very fortunate to have a very fine  Home Care Aide Training program which was started by Council on Aging and is now operated by Mercy Neighborhood Ministries. Many home health agencies hire aides who have graduated from this program.

Council on Aging and its professional organization, the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging, support standardized certification and training requirements and a rate structure that will ensure top quality of care provided to Ohio’s seniors.  We participated in the state’s Long Term Direct Service Workforce Initiative which included an assessment of the direct service workforce and recommendations for certification and training.

We are also encouraged by the recent transition of the Board of Nursing Home Administrators from the Department of Health to the Department of Aging. The new name will be Board of Executives of Long- Term Services and Supports. Its expanded focus will include developing a new set of core competencies and certification for long-term services and supports administrators.

Area Agencies on Aging strive to ensure Ohio’s seniors receive high quality care.  While we wholeheartedly support accountability and training for home health workers, it is wrong to say that regulations are lax across the board, when, in fact, a majority of the programs that provide these services are highly regulated and provide ongoing oversight. 

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