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Home health program closing

May 11, 2000|By MARLO BARNHART

No patients will be left without services when the Washington County Health Department's home health program ends June 30 after more than 25 years.

When it was announced last November that the program would be discontinued, 22 clients were using its services, according to Linda Humbert, director of nursing at the Health Department.

"We've been working with other home health providers to get these people taken care of," Humbert said. "Nobody will be left dangling."

Washington County has other home health providers such as Washington County Hospital, Hospice and private agencies.

The financial problem had already forced eight of Maryland's 10 publicly operated home health agencies to close since 1997, forcing patients to seek care at a dwindling number of private companies that accept Medicare.

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Last November, the only two remaining were in Garrett and Washington counties.

"Garrett County's program will continue, mainly because it is the only home health available in that county," Humbert said. "It has to continue."

Part of the financial problem stemmed from an order for the agencies to repay nearly $2.8 million in alleged overpayments, according to Wellmark Inc., a Blue Cross/Blue Shield company hired by the federal government to scrutinize public home health agencies.

Most of the agencies that closed did so when they were unable to stay afloat because of deep cuts in the amounts they were paid to provide services to Medicare recipients under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

"We are still providing services but we are just breaking even," Humbert said in November.

The county's 22 clients were characterized by Humbert as people who won't be emerging from home health care; rather, they will continue to receive care at home until death.

"They are long-term clients ... they aren't going to get better," she said.

The Washington County clients all meet Medicare guidelines, Humbert said.

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