John O'Connor
John O’Connor, editorial director

Remember the familiar old weigh stations along the aging care progression?

A patient’s path toward increasing dependence typically looked something like this: First, some assistance at home, then maybe senior living, followed by a trip to the hospital for illness or accident repair, and finally post-acute care and possibly hospice.

This traditional pathway faces disruption by what would have been an unlikely suspect until recently: hospitals. Increasingly, these players are embracing a new way to grow their business. The strategy is known as hospital-at-home.

If you happen to be a skilled care operator, the model’s continued growth may make you more than a little, ahem, home sick. Because guess who’s likely to get slowly muscled out here? Yep, that would be you.

For those unfamiliar, the hospital-at-home model seeks to provide acute-level care in the comfort of the patient’s homes.

Technically, it is not a new caregiving approach. In fact, it has been around for a bit more than a quarter century. However, its popularity surged in recent years, as COVID-19 fueled a massive increase in patient hospitalizations. With no beds to spare during the pandemic, many acute-care settings were forced to send stable patients home posthaste, where their care could continue.

Among hospital-at-home’s typical features are daily-to-twice-daily visits from physicians or nurses, vital sign monitoring, lab testing, and intravenous fluids and medication administration. Participants also generally provide a hospital transfer, should the need arise.

Now that post-Covid bed demand is waning, many hospitals are finding there’s no need to give up what has turned into a pretty good thing.

According to the few studies done on this approach, hospital-at-home is proving popular with patients without sacrificing care quality. And as many hospitals seek new ways to enhance margins, it’s a natural portfolio extension.

For long-term care operators, there’s a certain irony here that’s a bit hard to overlook.

In recent decades, most skilled facilities have been sizing up assisted living communities as the real competition.

Who would have guessed it would be hospitals — with a helping hand from home care — trying to muscle them out of the senior care business?

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.