By Ramona du Houx
A proposed law addressing the chronic underfunding of Maine’s home-based care system received strong bipartisan and broad community support today at a public hearing in the state’s Health and Human Services Committee.
The measure, LD 1129, proposes to increase funding by 30 percent for home health care services provided under MaineCare Section 40, which covers people in need of intensive nursing and therapy services. Many patients receiving services under Section 40 are often doing so on a short term basis and are transferred back to their home from the hospital or from a skilled nursing facility after a major health event or accident.
“These are patients who are motivated to get back home. Realistically, they will be returning home so why not integrate treatment and recovery in their home,” said Democratic State Senator Nate Libby of Lewiston, the sponsor of the measure. “Moreover, treatment at home is significantly less expensive to the MaineCare program than in an institutional setting.”
Senator Libby’s bill is one of three bills under consideration that would increase reimbursement rates for in-home support, including Speaker Mark Eves’ bill LD 1350 and Rep. Espling’s bill LD 886. However, Sen. Libby’s bill differs in that the intensive nursing care provided is meant to restore the individual to a level of functioning that existed prior to the major health event or accident, rather than solely maintaining their functioning as they age.
“We need to do everything we can to help people stay in in their homes and not force them into nursing homes,” said Assistant House Republican Leader, Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester, a cosponsor of the measure. “Most of these people want to stay in their homes. Not only is this the right thing to do, it also saves Maine taxpayers in the long run.”
During his testimony, Sen. Libby acknowledged that “funding is not the only solution to workforce issues related to home care services” and then offered an amendment that would allow agencies to hire new nursing graduates so long as the new graduates complete a comprehensive orientation that covers the nuances of home care nursing.
“As we look for better ways to get quality people into the health care field, I believe this very modest change will have a beneficial impact for the new nurses who are hired, the agencies who hire them and, most importantly, the people who receive care as a result,” said Sen. Libby.
Currently, the licensing requirements for home health agencies do not allow agencies to hire a newly graduated registered nurse. They are restricted to only hiring Registered Nurses who have one year of clinical experience or one year of nursing experience within the past three years.
The measure received robust support from Vicki Purgavie, Executive Director of Home Care & Hospice Alliance of Maine; Julie Shackley, President/CEO of Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice; Donna DeBlois, President/CEO, HomeHealth Visiting Nurses;Lisa Harvey-McPherson, VP for Continuum of Care at Eastern Maine Health System; and, Dale Hamilton, Executive Director of Community Health and Counseling Services.
The committee is expected to hold a work session on the measure in the coming weeks.