Pandemic prompts health agency to expand programs

ADDISON COUNTY — Addison County Home Health and Hospice, which has more than half a century of accumu- lated know-how under its belt, is rolling out some new or expanded services that appeal to an older demographic.
During the pandemic ACHHH, an inde- pendent nonprofit Visiting Nurses Associ- ation, has cared for approximately 20 CO- VID-19 positive patients in their homes, following CDC, Medicare and Vermont Department of Health guidelines. In addi- tion to continuing to provide patient care during the pandemic, ACHHH has devel- oped several innovative practices designed to better care for community members.
The organization is now offering physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech language pathology on an outpatient basis using Medicare Part B as a payer source. Medicare is a federal health care program offered to people age 65 and older.
Traditionally, ACHHH therapy patients have completed their therapy services un- der Medicare Part A and then transitioned to an outpatient therapy practice for ad- ditional therapy when they no longer met the definition of a “homebound patient.” Now, patients will be able to continue treatment in their own home with the same ACHHH therapist they are already familiar and comfortable with.
This option is appropriate for patients who would like to or need to decrease their potential exposure to COVID-19 and for whom finding transportation to a ther- apy practice is challenging, ACHHH of- ficials said. Therapy services under Medi- care Part A will continue as in the past; this represents an expansion of therapy services.
A second new offering is a Grief and Loss Support Program. Although the pro- gram is open to all members of the com- munity, officials said that most of the par- ticipants will likely be seniors, since 90% of ACHHH patients are 65 and older.
They explained that ACHHH formed the Grief and Loss Support Program when as it became clear that the pandemic was increasing stress for many people. Specifi- cally, family caregivers experience unique challenges that may be completely new to them; the new program enables fam- ily caregivers to speak to members of the ACHHH care team as well as others expe- riencing the same challenges.

The goal of the new Grief and Loss Sup- port Program is to go beyond the typical bereavement services, which begin after the loss of a loved one. In the new offer- ing, ACHHH staff begin working with pa- tients and families prior to loss. Included in this new program are support groups, which currently can be offered via Go- To-Meeting videoconferencing or private meetings with members of the care team. These services are available to all commu- nity members, regardless of whether they are patients of ACHHH or not.
Finally, the ACHHH therapy team is also offering expanded services related to dementia, which afflicts older members of our community. According to memory-, the average age of diagnosis of dementia is 80, and Vermont Vital Sta- tistics data show that the average age at death for dementia is 87.4 years.
ACHHH team members identified the need for increased education about de- mentia (including Alzheimer’s disease) within the community and wished to be able to give patients, families and physi- cians information that will help in early diagnosis.
Using the Montreal Cognitive Assess- ment, known as MoCA, and the Brief Cognitive Assessment Tool, or BCAT, ACHHH occupational therapists and speech language pathologists now have standardized testing resources that can help identify patients who may be suffer- ing from decreased cognitive function. ACHHH therapists are currently in the process of becoming certified in the use of MoCA and BCAT. This will help them provide valuable information to patients’ physicians, who can formally diagnose disease.
Additionally, ACHHH social workers are prepared to work with patients and families on advance care planning, assist- ing with explanation of the process and completion of the necessary documents.
Editor’s note: This story was provided by Maureen P. Conrad of ACHHH.


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