Kathleen Unroe, M.D., Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University Center for Aging Research

A federally-funded program aimed at reducing rehospitalizations among nursing home residents has cut avoidable hospitalizations by 33%, a new report shows.

The OPTIMISTIC project, or “Optimizing Patient Transfers, Impacting Medical Quality and Improving Symptoms: Transforming Institutional Care,” was launched in 2013 as part of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ initiative to reduce preventable hospitalizations in nursing home residents. The program embedded nurses and nurse practitioners to provide care, support and education in 19 Indiana nursing homes. It showed positive results after its first year.

In a report issued Tuesday, OPTIMISTIC’s Indiana University-based researchers revealed that in addition to the one-third reduction in hospitalizations, the program eliminated nearly one-fifth of both avoidable and unavoidable nursing home resident hospitalizations.

“Keeping these complex patients in the nursing facility is often the right choice,” explained investigator Kathleen Unroe, MD, MHA. “There is a lot of care we can provide in the nursing facility setting — a familiar place with staff and providers who know them — that spares the resident and their family the difficulties associated with a transfer to a hospital. When we can do that safely, we should.”

Those hospitalization reductions led to a $1,589 drop in Medicare expenditures per resident per year, for a total of nearly $13.5 million in savings, the report noted.

The OPTIMISTIC program, now in its second phase, added 25 new skilled nursing facilities last year. Among the research team’s next goals is developing ways to spread the model to more facilities.