Thomas Hanzel

Taking stock of the industry coming out of the pandemic

The pandemic has impacted us all. We were caught unaware and unprepared, some more than others – but we all had a level of suffering. However, no one had a worse experience than our most fragile and elderly population. As COVID-19 tore through the aging population, it flipped the nursing home industry upside down. The impact was rapid, costly and cataclysmic as it disproportionately attacked the long-term care industry. According to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, the United States suffered the loss of over 577,000 citizens nationwide, with an astounding 40% of those deaths coming from residents in long-term care centers.  

In retrospect, even though this year was unparalleled to anything in our lifetimes, we all can find things to be thankful for. One thing we should all be thankful for is how the long-term care industry once again stepped up, came together and as a whole is winning the war on COVID-19. Thanks to industry leaders and vaccine manufacturers, the pandemic appears to be on the decline. Many long-term care industry experts have shared with me the positive impact their healthcare centers are experiencing post-vaccination. 

These leaders are reporting near-disappearance of COVID-19 positive cases. In addition, they said most residents who still tested positive post-vaccination are asymptomatic. Recently, it was reported that the positive cases among nursing home staff have dropped 83% and dropped an even higher 89% among residents. However, one of the bigger concerns shared among these leaders is that the negative reputation of long-term care centers may be irreparable.  

Looming threats of the pandemic & the “new normal”

A December survey from the American Health Care Association found that as many as 65% of the nursing homes across the United States are operating at a loss, and two-thirds will not be able to endure another year due in large part to the financial crisis caused by the pandemic. The necessity for unbudgeted resources to be allocated towards personal protective equipment costs, additional staff and other expenses associated with the pandemic is too much to bear. In addition, it can confidently be predicted that admissions, and therefore revenue, will continue to stay low.   

Part of this threat is due to a push towards home health by payers and acute providers. In this McKnight’s Long-Term Care News article, Mark Terpylak, D.O., senior vice president of population health at Summa Health, is quoted saying, “We fundamentally ask ourselves at the time of discharge from acute care, ‘Can we send them home, first and foremost, and support them in a home environment?’ If we can’t, then we work our way up the ladder in the other direction.”

In order to administer care as inexpensively as possible and with COVID-19 outbreaks always looming, home health is a justifiable strategy by anyone paying the bill. Hospitals and accountable care organizations will focus on home health as a primary next step in post-acute discharge, and honestly, who could blame them?

Maintaining focus for industry excellence

I was once told by a wise CEO of a highly respected long-term care company that our reputation is all we have. We cannot underestimate these challenges that we have and will continue to face; however, if they want to survive, long-term care providers must achieve and maintain a top-level reputation in their local communities. 

Yes, cost is up due to PPE and nursing salaries, revenue is down due to poor admissions rates, but a long-term care nursing provider is still required to maintain high-quality measures and focus on their Five-Star Quality Ratings. They need to create an environment that finds ways to lower stress for their employees and at the same time, provide superlative quality in order to obtain a high sense of confidence from their residents’ family members.  

Differentiating is vital in order to succeed

To stay relevant and profitable during this challenging time, long-term care nursing centers need to find a way to differentiate themselves. Costly investment in technology and selecting quality vendors are difficult decisions to make. This is no time for mediocracy, and nursing centers need help from their vendors. As a whole, the long-term care industry needs to challenge the “old way” of doing things and embrace technology that will advance their mission. One key way this can be done is by requiring your pharmacy to provide adherence packaging. 

Adherence packaging can deliver enhanced medication compliance, help lessen the burden on nurses, and create a viable post-discharge strategy. Adherence packaging that accomplishes all of these objectives simultaneously should be of high consideration when choosing a pharmacy provider. Adherence packaging is customizable by resident and by administration time and is proven to help ensure all medications are getting passed, helping keep residents healthy. At the same time, such packaging helps avoid costly fines for med pass errors and challenges associated with rehospitalizations.     

Increased salaries will parallel the nursing staffing shortages, and creating a place where nurses want to work will also be critical. To differentiate themselves from their competitors, long-term care providers must find creative ways to make their nursing staff’s lives easier. Adherence packaging does exactly that by greatly reducing med pass administration time, unchaining your nurse from the med cart, and giving them an opportunity to spend valuable quality time with each resident. 

In addition, we all know that the responsibilities do not end at discharge. Reports show that lack of adherence to medications results in over 100,000 deaths per year and costs the healthcare system billions of dollars annually in avoidable expenses. Continuing to follow the residents post-discharge and help them secure adherence packaging will significantly decrease the chance of rehospitalization.  

Saving the industry and kicking off a new way of thinking

Increasing adherence, minimizing rehospitalization and improving your resident’s quality of life are all marketable differentiating traits of a quality long-term healthcare provider. Once you adopt adherence packaging, make sure you let everyone know. Let your payors know about it, educate the local discharge planners, and above all, make sure you tell your community. Increasing quality through adherence packaging is a win, win, win. Your nurses win, your residents win and your healthcare center wins. Remember, our reputation is all we have, so do what it takes to differentiate yourself as a leader in your community.  

Thomas Hanzel is vice president of long-term care and nutraceuticals at Parata Systems.