Lifeline Home Health marks milestone: its 100,000th patient

January 19, 2004|JOHN T. DAVIS

If Ethel Curtis had had a medical emergency Jan. 8 at her Lincoln County home, she would have been in good hands.

She was surrounded by three registered nurses, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist and several other medical professionals from Lifeline Home Health.

Fortunately, this assemblage of medical talent wasn't at Curtis' home for a medical emergency. In fact, they were there to celebrate a milestone in the life of Lifeline, a 19-year-old home health company whose service area includes Casey and Lincoln counties: Curtis was presented a plaque honoring her as the company's 100,000th patient.

"It is mindboggling that our little company has been able to provide quality home health care to over 100,000 patients," James T. Wilson, chairman and CEO, said in a press release. "Over the years that has translated into literally millions of visits to individuals confined to their homes in Kentucky and Florida. Hopefully, we have had a significant part in the recovery process of these individuals and that their lives have been more enjoyable as a result of our efforts."


Lifeline began in Somerset in 1984 with a staff of five, and now has 16 offices in southern and central Kentucky, eight offices in Florida and about 900 employees, according to the press release.

Patty Stonecipher, director of marketing for the company, and Michelle Smith, who heads Lifeline's Stanford office, have been in a position to witness much of the company's growth and the growth of the home health industry as a whole.

"Hospitals are now eager to discharge patients because of insurance" limitations, Stonecipher said, and home health agencies have become "an extension of the hospital."

Stonecipher said the company now treats everyone from newborn babies to people on ventilators as more and more of the sophisticated, high-tech treatments that once were provided only in hospitals are now offered by home health agencies.

A former emergency room nurse, Stonecipher said that when she opened Lifeline's Stanford office in 1992, a medicine used to treat people suffering from congestive heart failure could only be administered in a hospital setting with the patient hooked up to a heart monitor. A year later, a Danville physician called her and asked her to administer the medicine to a patient at home.

Now, Lifeline even has nine patients across the state who are on ventilators at home, Stonecipher said. "Home health has gotten real high-tech," she said.

Both hospitals and home health agencies have had to adjust their operations to changes in the way Medicare pays for health care for the elderly. Both are now paid a lump sum for the care of different types of illnesses, such as heart attacks.

Lifeline and other home health agencies are part of hospitals' discharge process. They get involved "when a patient reaches a certain stage where the patient's case manager knows that they can receive care outside the hospital," said Stonecipher.

Statistics "show that patients do much better once you get them home," Stonecipher said.

Both nurses stressed that what began as a necessity because of Medicare and other insurance changes has produced a beneficial change in the mindset of home health workers.

Smith said that rather than keep patients on home health-care for an extended period, the goal now is to work with the patients to try to help them become as independent as possible in their own home.

"When we go into a home, we work with a patient based on what goals they have," Smith said. "We work on what deficits they have that they didn't have when they went into the hospital."

Lifeline uses occupational therapists to help patients "work on (human) energy conservation" and help them adapt to living as independently as possible in their own home.

Stonecipher said it's important to work with the patients in their home situations to help them achieve their goals because each patient has different needs. A farmer, for instance, might say, "I'd just like to get back to the barn and see my cattle again," Stonecipher said.

Lifeline also uses social workers to help patients adapt to being home. "We use social workers once we get them home to make sure they are maximizing all of the resources out in the community," Smith said.

As for Curtis, she came home from Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center where she was treated for a mild heart attack and pneumonia. She is visited regularly by registered nurse Lia Glass, and physical therapist Ann Milburn has helped her build up her strength by doing exercises, walking her up and down the hall and helping her deal with steps into the house.

Curtis' daughter, Judy Davis, who lives with her, said when her 80-year-old mother came home from the hospital "she was really weak and just couldn't do for herself really good. She has always been independent and is doing really well now."

Said Curtis: "They've been real nice.

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