Home Health Executive Forecast for 2021: Reserving a Seat at the Big Kids’ Table

Going into 2020, many home health executives predicted that the Patient-Driven Groupings Model (PDGM) would kick off a wave of consolidation and agency closures. Others believed the phase out of Requests for Anticipated Payment (RAPs) would have a similar effect.

For the most part, that didn’t happen. The COVID-19 pandemic — and all the policy developments that came with it — reshaped this year in impossible-to-anticipate ways.

As has become an annual tradition, Home Health Care News caught up with 10 industry leaders to chronicle their predictions on the coming year. Despite all the uncertainty still swirling around the public health emergency, these brave CEOs and C-suite executives took a shot at identifying trends, challenges and opportunities that will define home-based care in 2021.

You can find their predictions below, lightly edited for length and clarity.

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In my opinion, 2021 will be the year that 2020 was supposed to be prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The disruption from the implementation of PDGM and impact from the reduction (and in 2021 the full elimination) of the RAP was largely mitigated by Cares Act funds that helped to support the broader health care space. Once the Public Health Emergency is over and there is no more Cares Act or additional government support, the impact that we thought we would see in 2020 will play out in 2021 – fewer players with more market share.

COVID-19 has also helped to catalyze a number of trends that we have been talking about for years, including: Seniors’ desire, now greater than ever, to be cared for in the home; flexibility from CMS for the utilization of telemedicine in care planning; and reimbursement for higher acuity care provided in the home. We believe these trends will stick well beyond the pandemic and will only continue to highlight just how important and impactful care in the home is to health care costs but also, most importantly, to patient outcomes, quality and safety.

Additionally, the CMMI Value Based Purchasing demo should go nationwide, but might get lost in the transition of administrations. This is an opportunity to drive quality that might potentially be lost.

— Paul Kusserow, President and CEO of Amedisys Inc. (Nasdaq: AMED)

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Successful agencies in 2021 – and the next few years for that matter – will be successful because of a true investment in human capital. The totality of recent changes, as well as those we anticipate in the coming year (No-pay RAP, the current Public Health Emergency uncertainty and eventually OASIS-E) all weigh on the people making our agencies run. And our clinicians are bearing the brunt of this weight. The successful agency is prepared now to invest in talent management, clinical education and professional development, so our clinicians and staff are prepared to face the challenges that continue to come our way and feel engaged in the work.

— Jason Growe, CEO of Apollo Medical

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The pandemic has brought unprecedented challenge and change to the home care market. At Elara Caring, the key lesson learned this year was agility and teamwork. As we look to 2021, we believe clear communication and agility at every level will remain key to success. In addition, the ability to address a multitude of patients’ needs has become even more important in 2020. As a home care company providing a full suite of services – skilled home health, hospice, behavioral and personal care – we believe Elara Caring is well positioned for the year and decade ahead in home care.

We also remain steadfast in our efforts to build one Elara Caring across the 16 states we offer services in. Lastly and most importantly, COVID-19 has brought home care workers to the forefront — and they are more appreciated and desired than ever. We are proud of the work we have done this year to prioritize worker safety and health to ensure our workers and our patients receive the highest-level care.

— Scott Powers, CEO of Elara Caring

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The biggest thing that we will see in home health care is that we’re given a seat at the “big kids table.” The recognition from COVID-19 that the country needs to move away from keeping people in congregate living and post-acute settings combined with the expertise that we have developed through decades of caring for people at home will lead to a much larger role for home health and hospice in the care continuum. Additionally, as we add in the booming wearable and IoT market, these services will transform the delivery of care, giving agencies real-time access to create plans of care that respond to patients’ conditions in a way that more closely resembles a “hospital at home.” This will be a driving force over the next several years to transform where home health care is in the care continuum.

— Beau Sorensen, COO at First Choice Home Health & Hospice

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COVID-19 has accelerated many of the trends that were already underway in health care, particularly in regard to care delivered in the home. We see three factors driving this: increased demand by patients, increased adoption by health care providers and greater flexibility from CMS.

We’ve seen exponential growth in telehealth this year. We’re finding that most Medicare patients are open to virtual care, especially if they already have a doctor they’re comfortable with. This trend is here to stay.

Where I see the most acceleration going forward is in higher-acuity home care. Physicians are starting to embrace the delivery of hospital-level and skilled nursing care in the home. In the past, physicians were more inclined to refer a patient to a facility setting. Now, given the increased risks, physicians are referring more patients into home-based models, which are able to deliver safe and effective care leveraging home visits, virtual care and remote-monitoring technology, often producing better health outcomes for patients. Consumers prefer it, too, as it reduces burdens on caregivers, provides immediate access to their care team, helps them maintain independence and allows them to heal in the comfort of their home.

We appreciate the additional flexibilities CMS extended as a result of the pandemic and encourage them to go even further. Many of the people we serve are low-income seniors who do not have access to devices such as smartphones or tablets. We are taking advantage of recent CMS changes that permit us to loan patients tablets to connect with their care manager or physician, but there are limitations to what we can make available on those devices. We think there’s an opportunity to load the devices with additional content and tools that address mental health and other social determinants, and also allow patients to connect with their loved ones. Isolation was already a big factor for our patients, and social distancing and other limitations on their ability to socialize have only exacerbated this situation; further flexibility would allow us to fully leverage innovation in support of our members’ health.

— Susan Diamond; home care business president, Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM)

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Just as QR codes are here to stay in the place of traditional restaurant menus, we can expect to see the need for skilled home health and hospice continue to grow, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. I anticipate strong demand for our services will exacerbate existing staffing challenges, testing our industry’s ability to recruit enough registered nurses to meet increased demand. As clinically appropriate, our paradigm will need to attract experienced RNs who have not previously considered home health and hospice, implement comprehensive orientation and peer mentor programs to support candidates without post-acute experience and new graduates, and continue providing robust offerings to support the paraprofessional nurse. The shift of health care services to the home setting will facilitate the ongoing focus of reducing health care costs while delivering quality outcomes. The value of care delivered at home will be on full display in 2021 and beyond.

— Paul McMullen, COO at Intrepid USA Healthcare

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For 2021, I’m looking forward to gaining traction on tangible change. Home health will continue to innovate, but much of the planning and work has been done in 2020. For 2021, it will be the year of implementation. I believe we’ll see unprecedented speed in bi-partisan Congressional action on the home health reimbursement front. Soon after, we’ll see new government regulation across health care. Don’t be surprised to see a new government agency, czar or department head create rigorous health care accountability measures that will impact our daily delivery of care.

While the nursing shortage will continue, I anticipate increased enrollment in medical, therapy and nursing programs nationwide. We won’t see these new recruits on the front lines for a few years, but they’re going to bring fresh perspectives to home health after living through a world-wide pandemic.

For Josephine At Home, 2021 will be a year of insane growth. We’re excited to be part of the national solution to improve care and patient safety. But this can only happen if home health is an equal partner in the continuum of care. Home health has been providing clinical excellence since its inception. And we’re long overdue to have recognition in the form of comprehensive reimbursement from CMS. From a leadership standpoint, I’ll be focusing on advocating for expanded home health reimbursement on the state and national level. And most importantly, I will be hyper-focused on staffing. A healthy work culture has a positive correlation to optimized patient outcomes. Leaders willing to have difficult conversations, be vulnerable and accept change will find success in the 2021 home health landscape.

— Leslie Palmer, executive director of Josephine At Home

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There was a seismic shift in how Mission Healthcare operated to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis and create a safe environment for staff, patients and families. We will continue to face challenges and changes to the home health landscape well into 2021. First, the pandemic is far from over, and we expect business impact from the coronavirus to linger well into the first part of the year. As cases continue to climb, more people are valuing and shifting to care in the setting of the home as an alternative. Furthermore, home health providers will be a tremendous vehicle for the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine for many patients who are high risk, homebound, and unable to get to doctors or clinics.

Additionally, the largest swooping change of PDGM continues to impact the industry. We will keep our eyes peeled on the way PDGM shakes providers across the country as government programs come to an end, including the sequestration holiday, Cares Act funds, PPP loans, deferred payroll tax and advance payments. PDGM’s intersection with the coronavirus accelerated technology trends and innovation. Our industry is more than ever embracing technology as we enter a new era of health care.

Lastly, M&A activity continues to surge in both hospice and home health as we come out of the pandemic and travel begins to open back up. While the industry has shown signs of a strong rebound, it is certainly not without challenges. Given the rapidly changing market, Mission Healthcare continues to take our COVID-19 response and processes very seriously to adapt to the current environment. The safety and well-being of our patients and colleagues remain our priority.

— Paul VerHoeve, CEO of Mission Healthcare

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2021 will be a tale of two halves.

We expect to see another COVID-19-driven stimulus package in the first half of the year. As that wanes off, we’ll see a glut of M&A in the second half — smaller operators struggling with overbearing regulations, inadequate reimbursements, and increasing labor costs and shortages will look to sell. Many may go out of business.

The need for home-based care is at an all-time high, and it will only grow. We think the HEAT Act will be passed by Congress, driving up telehealth utilization for nursing and therapy visits. Doctors will look to home health care agencies for assisted-telehealth-visits to have eyes and ears on the ground and to help implement remote patient monitoring devices.

Productizing operations using data and proprietary technology will be key to building structurally sound home health care agencies in 2021.

— Raman Brar, CEO of PathWell Health

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As the nation’s COVID-19 response is analyzed, the value of home care as a way for COVID patients to be treated at home — allowing hospitals to discharge COVID patients to open up beds — will become apparent, driving an increased focus on the need for governmental and payer financial support of home care programs.

— Dan Savitt, executive vice president and CFO of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY)

*Editor’s note (Dec. 15, 2020): VNSNY CFO Dan Saviitt will step into the CEO role on Feb. 1, 2021, after the planned departure of current CEO Marki Flannery.

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With the continued push to provide care in the home setting, the home health vertical will be an even more integral factor in the goal to provide our mutual patients with quality care in the right setting. Home health agencies that are innovative in their abilities to combat social determinants of health as well as streamline effective communication pathways with their up- and downstream providers will be the strongest players within their market, ultimately positioning themselves to be strong partners with MCOs, ACOs and acute care.

— Jennifer Levy, chief strategy officer at V&V Management Solutions

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COVID-19 Patients Discharged from Home Health Care Often Have ‘Excellent’ Symptom Improvement, Functional Outcomes

So far, there’s been a lack of information on the characteristics and outcomes of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 who are discharged to the home setting. Researchers Kathryn Bowles and Margaret McDonald — both with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) — are working to change that.

For the past few months, Bowles and McDonald have been analyzing OASIS data and other information tied to hundreds of patients recovering at home following coronavirus-related acute care stays. The goal of their analysis, Bowles told Home Health Care News, is to showcase the value of in-home care at a time when new infections are skyrocketing and hospital beds are in short supply.

Only one in 10 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are discharged home with home health services, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

“We knew that, nationwide, only 11% of [hospital discharges] are getting home health care services after COVID-19 — and that seems really low to us,” said Bowles, who serves as vice president and director of the VNSNY Center for Home Care Policy & Research. “We were hoping that we might show the value of home health care, bringing attention to the fact that home health care is a resource that could be used to help support recovery in the community.”

On top of her role at VNSNY, Bowles is a professor and the van Ameringen chair in nursing excellence at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. McDonald, the associate director of VNSNY’s policy and research hub, echoed those sentiments.

The researchers’ findings on COVID-19 patient characteristics and outcomes were officially published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Monday.

“We’re continuing to face this [emergency] and the hospitalizations are now going back up,” McDonald said. “I’m really happy this is being released at this point.”

‘They were very sick’

Bowles and McDonald have helped turn VNSNY’s Center for Home Care Policy & Research into a well-known research powerhouse, one that has spent millions of dollars on dozens of groundbreaking projects focused on in-home care over the past three decades.

Like most of their past work, their newly published look at COVID-19 in the home setting leverages VNSNY’s vast data infrastructure and position as the nation’s largest nonprofit home-based care organization. Focusing their COVID-19 analysis on the New York-based VNSNY was particularly insightful, considering New York City and the surrounding area once stood as the pandemic’s global epicenter.

New York reported its first confirmed COVID-19 case on March 1. Since then, the state has had more than 601,000 total cases, including more than 33,000 deaths.

“Given that we were located in the epicenter of the pandemic and with the largest, not-for-profit home care agency in the country, we knew we had access to terrific data on patients coming out of the hospitals,” Bowles said.

As part of their latest project, Bowles and McDonald conducted a retrospective, observational cohort study, analyzing medical information from 1,409 COVID-19 patients admitted to VNSNY’s home health services between April 1 and June 15 following a hospitalization. Referrals came from 64 hospitals, with the average age of patients being 67 — much younger than the typical Medicare home health patient.

In fact, about 43% of the patients were younger than 65. The somewhat surprising age of patients was likely linked to COVID-19 devastating impact on older populations, McDonald noted.

“We do think the influence was that, you know, we were meeting with hospital survivors,” she said. “And unfortunately, the oldest of the ‘older population’ were not surviving [hospital stays], especially in the early times.”

Upon being admitted to home health services, the bulk of patients had multiple comorbidities and risk factors for re-hospitalization, such as difficulty adhering to medical instructions or exhaustion on admission. The most common comorbid conditions were hypertension, diabetes and chronic pulmonary disease.

Pain was present daily or all the time for 42% of the patients Bowles and McDonald looked at, with 84% reporting trouble breathing with any exertion and 50% reporting symptoms of anxiety. The vast majority of the 1,409 patients had severe functional limitations, with 85% needing help with four or more activities of daily living (ADLs).

“They were very sick when they entered home health care,” Bowles said.

That changed in a remarkable way after in-home services were delivered.

After an average of 32 days of care, 94% of patients with COVID-19 referred to home health care were discharged off services. Exactly 1,241 patients — or 88% of the overall sample — were discharged without any adverse health events, such as re-hospitalization or death.

In contrast to the poor symptom and functional profile of patients at home health admission, by the time of discharge, most patients had “statistically significant improvements” in pain, ability to breathe, cognition and anxiety. Functional gains were common with most patients, too, Bowles and McDonald noted.

“I was happily surprised about the recovery, which took place in a relatively short period of time,” McDonald said. “After 30 or 32 days, we were able to see that people were recovering.”

The value of home health care

Moving forward, Bowles and McDonald said they hoped home health agencies could use their findings to better prepare for delivering care for COVID-19 patients in the community.

One key takeaway they flagged is how similar COVID-19 patients are to sepsis survivors.

“Admission characteristics of COVID-19 survivors are very similar to those of sepsis survivors admitted to HHC (home health care) nationally,” their research in Annals of Internal Medicine states. “Recent evidence suggests that early home health visits, coupled with outpatient follow-up in Week 1, decreased re-hospitalizations among sepsis survivors.”

Another takeaway from their research was the balance of in-person visits to telephonic and video visits.

In total, the 1,409 patients cared for in the home received 13,926 home health visits. More than 75% of those visits were carried out in person, with 16% and 8% being conducted by telephone and video, respectively.

“[The care team] valued the in-person visits, and they continued to make use of them as much as they possibly could,” Bowles said. “And they were allowed into the home by the patients.”

Registered nurses provided 52% of the visits, with physical therapists providing 37% of visits. The remainder were provided by social workers, plus occupational and speech therapists. Patients received an average of 11 visits.

In addition to home health agencies, Bowles and McDonald said they hoped the health system at large will use their findings to continue shifting care into the home whenever possible.

“A key recommendation to prepare for post-acute care surges due to COVID-19 was to expand HHC use to provide skilled nursing and rehabilitative services in the home, thereby preventing transmission to other patients, as may occur in in-patient facilities,” they wrote. “This advice was prescient, because our study shows that COVID-19 survivors discharged from HHC had excellent symptom improvement and functional outcomes, highlighting that post-acute support through HHC affords an opportunity to aid the recovery of future patients with COVID-19.”

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Home Health Providers Prepare for ‘Very Tough Winter’ Ahead

The seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases hit 68,767 on Sunday, shattering the previous high set in July. Meanwhile, Friday and Saturday took over as the two highest days for new cases since the pandemic began.

Despite mitigation efforts and progress on rapid testing, the U.S. is firmly in the middle of a third surge, one that even rivals spring’s initial outbreak in terms of raw numbers. Home health providers have yet to feel the full effects of this latest swell, but many believe another round of patient-volume disruption could be on its way if the situation isn’t contained.

“We are certainly seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the geographic areas VNA Health Group serves,” Dr. Steven Landers, the organization’s president and CEO, told Home Health Care News. “The number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations and home health referrals have increased in October, but are not yet anywhere near the crisis levels we experienced in April and May.”

VNA Health Group is among the largest independent, nonprofit home-based care providers in the nation, operating across New Jersey, plus parts of Ohio and Florida. Its front-line workers have cared for several hundred COVID-19-positive seniors over the past eight months.

In the Pacific Northwest, Washington-based EvergreenHealth Home Care is similarly not experiencing a major influx of COVID-19 patients at this time, Chief Home Care Officer Brent Korte told HHCN. Nonetheless, the hospital-affiliated home health provider and COVID-19 pioneer remains nimble in its planning, should volumes and circumstances suddenly change.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, EvergreenHealth Home Care has operated under the assumption that a surge could come at any time, and we are prepared to handle an increase in [COVID-positive] patients,” Korte said. “We have been preparing nonstop for the past eight months, since we cared for the first COVID patients in the U.S. in early March.”

A spokesperson for a large, multi-state post-acute care provider with a home health services line likewise told HHCN his organization isn’t experiencing a current surge in COVID-19 patients nor a decrease in volumes.

The ‘steep slope of the curve’

Health experts had long been anticipating a winter surge, materializing right around the Nov. 3 presidential election. But unlike past spikes isolated to one state or one region, the current surge is geographically diverse, with outbreaks across the Midwest, Great Plains and the South, in addition to certain metropolitan markets.

In El Paso, Texas, for example, intensive care units hit full capacity on Saturday, according to The Washington Post. In Utah, the state hospital association warned that the state may soon have to implement a “crisis standards of care,” prioritizing care toward younger patients more likely to recover.

All signs suggest the nation is once again at a “dangerous tipping point,” former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CBS News.

“We’re entering what’s going to be the steep slope of the curve,” Gottlieb cautioned.

When home health providers did see a sudden COVID-driven dip in patient volumes, it came toward the end of March and early April, when hospital systems halted elective surgeries and individuals declined visits due to exposure concerns. After that drop is when providers began to then see the continuous flow of COVID-19 patients onto home health services.

Data gathered by home health and hospice technology company Homecare Homebase (HCHB) confirms that in-home care providers are not seeing the same kind of volume swings — yet.

After the spring decrease, home health admissions rapidly climbed to pre-pandemic levels by the end of May and early June, the HCHB data shows. Admission numbers then gradually increased to a near-term, relative high until late-September, apart from a minor blip between mid-July and mid-August.

New data suggests admissions are trending slightly downward again in October.

Source: Homecare Homebase

On its end, the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) — the biggest nonprofit home-based care provider in the country — is not seeing a significant upswing in COVID-19 cases at this time. Additionally, its volumes remain steady.

“We’ve been able to recover fairly smoothly from the drops in service that we saw earlier in the year,” Andria Castellanos, VNSNY executive vice president and chief of provider services told HHCN. “Our volume continues to improve each month as our referral sources normalize. Of course, we are monitoring the numbers very closely every day, throughout the day, and we are in constant communication with our clinicians and the physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other partners that VNSNY serves.”

While there is a clear surge in new cases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, pointed out the U.S. is still in the first broader “wave.”

“We’ve never really had waves in the sense of up and then down to a good baseline,” Fauci said Monday at the All Markets Summit. “It’s been wavering up and down. So now we’re at the highest baseline. … [It’s] kind of semantics. You want to call it the third wave or extended first wave. No matter how you look at it, it’s not good news.”

Staying vigilant

If home health providers do ultimately experience an uptick in COVID-postive patients, they’ll be prepared. Most have never stopped stocking up on personal protective equipment (PPE) or refining their operational protocols.

That includes VNSNY, said Castellanos, who heads up the organization’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Team.

“VNSNY has developed a new PPE procurement supply chain,” she said. “We now have an adequate supply of PPE available for all of our staff, who are well trained and updated on all protocols. We understand that changes can happen very quickly, and our staff and Emergency Response Team are on alert 24/7 and in sync — ready to respond immediately [if needed].”

In addition to PPE and protocols, providers are also in better shape when it comes to staying connected and supporting their clinicians in the field.

As in-home care providers head into “a very tough winter ahead,” EvergreenHealth Home Care is focused on keeping staff safe, delivering high-quality care and making sure its workers all have jobs that aren’t going away, Korte noted.

“I recently had the opportunity to round with our clinician care teams, and while everyone is experiencing and embracing the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in their own way, especially when it comes to missing our personal connections with one another, we’re working together to find creative ways to stay connected and empower each,” he said. “We are in a hiring mode currently — so our staff are thankful to have security in their jobs as so many people in our community have been hit by the economic downturn.”

VNA Health Group, too, is focused on protecting its patients and staff. Part of that has meant implementing an aggressive employee influenza-vaccination campaign to protect workers from the flu, which could potentially be devastating when paired with the COVID-19 virus.

Even with all the planning, preparation and caution, home health providers will still have to keep their fingers crossed that the public at large takes the current surge seriously, Landers added.

“We are hoping that the people in the communities we serve will be vigilant about the public health measures that can bring this back down so that we don’t revisit those earlier high levels of infections and deaths,” he said.

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VNSNY Launches Open-Source COVID-19 Contact-Tracing Tool for Home-Based Care Providers

The Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) is flexing its data science muscles.

Over the past few months, VNSNY and its data science team have been building a contact-tracing tool to help home- and community-based care providers limit the spread of the coronavirus. Mapping the spread of COVID-19 remains critical to all health care stakeholders, as the number of people known to have been infected by the virus in the U.S. passed 4 million on Thursday.

Broadly, contact tracing is the practice of identifying individuals who may have been exposed to an infectious disease and the other people they came into contact with.

While home- and community-based care providers have long been held to high infection-control standards, actually mapping out the potential spread of disease within an organization’s network is a somewhat novel concept, according to Carlin Brickner, who heads VNSNY’s data science team as director of analytics.

“I think clinicians have always been worried about infectious diseases or just infections, but we’ve never really had a pandemic to worry about,” Brickner told Home Health Care News. “There have been other outbreaks, but this is more of a monumental shift.”

On any given day, VNSNY and its roughly 13,000 employees help provide care for about 44,300 patients and health plan members. Those statistics make VNSNY the largest nonprofit home- and community-based services provider in the country.

VNSNY’s contact-tracing tool — VisitContactTrace — works by analyzing the regular health care data home-based care organizations already keep track of and report. In doing so, the goal is to give providers a better picture of which clinicians are interacting with which patients, Brickner said.

“It’s a common data structure that an electronic medical record for a community-based health care provider will see,” he said. “We’re just basically applying a contact-tracing idea to what a health care provider already collects in their regular day-to-day operations.”

But VNSNY isn’t just using VisitContactTrace internally. It’s also offering the tool up to its home-based care colleagues as well — for free.

Currently, any provider can install the VisitContactTrace tool and run their own contact-tracing models for no cost by visiting GitHub, an online platform that allows users to share open-source code. VisitContactTrace was specifically designed to work with the statistical software program R.

“It’s a program that my team uses on a daily basis for pretty much all of our work,” Brickner said.

As with any data tool, there are limitations to what VisitContactTrace can do, however.

Generally, VisitContactTrace only helps providers better understand direct interactions between their clinicians and patients — not any outside interactions those parties may have on an individual basis.

“It’s only the data that we collect — the encounters between the clinician and patient,” Brickner said. “We don’t take into account other things that are outside the perspective of the home care agency or other community-based health care provider. It’s just what they’re able to observe and what the home care agency should be looking out for from the data that they naturally collect.”

Developing VisitContactTrace is on-brand for an innovation powerhouse like VNSNY.

Since its founding 125 years ago, VNSNY has launched dozens of groundbreaking research projects, even forming an infrastructure within the overall business dedicated to such efforts.

VisitContactTrace was developed in response to the COVID-19 virus, but VNSNY and Brickner hope it will be used to mitigate the spread of future outbreaks, too.

“I think COVID-19 was the motivation to develop this [tool], but I don’t think that will be the end of it,” Brickner said.

Since the coronavirus surfaced, many countries have adopted aggressive contact-tracing efforts, including South Korea, Iceland and others.

Nationally, the cost of an effective contact-tracing program can be substantial.

For the United States, for example, a recent cost estimate for one proposal was $3.6 billion, McKinsey & Company noted in a May report. Still, robust contact-tracing programs can reduce the likelihood of full-scale lockdowns, which come with an even greater price tag.

While the public sector has played a leading part in contact-tracing efforts thus far, private-sector organizations are positioning themselves for bigger roles moving forward, the McKinsey & Company report also highlighted.

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VNSNY Names Dan Savitt as Next CEO

The nation’s largest nonprofit home- and community-based services organization has named its next CEO.

The Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) announced Thursday that its board of directors has selected Dan Savitt to take over for current CEO Marki Flannery when she steps down at the end of January 2021. Savitt has served as VNSNY’s CFO and an executive vice president since early 2018.

Founded more than 127 years ago, VNSNY’s offerings include home health, hospice and palliative care, plus mental health services and more. VNSNY also delivers private-pay care management and home health aide services through its Partners in Care business.

It additionally operates a selection of health plans through its managed care affiliate, VNSNY CHOICE.

The transition of the CEO title from Flannery to Savitt had been in the works since last fall, the organization noted in a press release announcing the news. In searching for a new CEO, VNSNY’s board specifically prioritized finding somebody who was already in-house.

“We sought a proven leader who had been in the trenches with our staff, working daily to ensure VNSNY’s continued place as the country’s most effective not-for-profit home and community-based mission-driven organization,” Dr. Andrew N. Schiff, chairman of the VNSNY board, said in the press release. “Dan Savitt is the perfect fit to lead our organization forward as we seek to grow and expand our ability to serve the most vulnerable.”

Since March, VNSNY and its team of in-home clinicians have “been in the trenches” battling the coronavirus.

When the virus initially began spreading across the United States, New York quickly emerged as the world’s epicenter. The state has had more than 409,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 overall — and over 32,000 deaths.

VNSNY became one of the first home health organizations to care for large numbers of COVID-19 patients.

In early April, VNSNY announced it had started accepting COVID-19 referrals from area hospitals. By the end of May, it had cared for more than 2,000 COVID-19 patients, all the while burning through costly personal protective equipment (PPE) and managing sudden drops in admissions — challenges that also plagued the home health industry at large.

VNSNY leadership discussed the impact the coronavirus had on its operations during an April HHCN webinar.

“Every one of us — at either a leadership level or throughout the organization — is online working from home, answering emails, having conversations virtually and in meetings that are specifically related to COVID-19,” VNSNY Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Michael Bernstein told HHCN at the time.

Flannery has been at the helm for all of it — and more. She has spent close to 39 years running various parts of VNSNY’s business portfolio.

After a brief time away from the organization, she returned in April 2018 to assume the CEO position, originally agreeing to stay on for one year. At the board’s request, Flannery extended that timeline to Jan. 31, 2021.

Apart from its COVID-19 response, VNSNY has aggressively pursued new business opportunities under Flannery’s leadership, including the launch of VNSNY’s new care management offering, VNSNY Care360° Solutions.

“Marki’s leadership since her return as CEO has been nothing short of inspirational,” Schiff said. “She has delivered results well beyond our wildest expectations, before and during the pandemic, and we are certain she will continue to do so for the next seven months.”

In his EVP and CFO roles, Savitt has mostly focused on fiance, technology and business-intelligence decisions.

Prior to joining VNSNY, Savitt served in leadership positions with United Health Group, Landmark Health and U.S. Acute Care Solutions.

“Dan has passion for the VNSNY mission coupled with a deep understanding of the drivers of our business and the needs of the people we serve,” Flannery said in the release. “I look forward to working with Dan and my executive team to ensure a smooth and seamless transition.”

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