Oy is right. Those 100 days of skilled nursing may be a mirage thanks to new Medicare Initiative.

Oy

During this journey, I have felt as if I keep tripping over new information – critical information that families should be made aware of, but instead I find out the info by accident.  Apparently just a couple of months ago – a.k.a. before my dad fell and broke his hip but AFTER he fell and fractured his pelvis – Medicare expanded a new initiative they had started a couple of years ago.  This year, the expansion INCLUDED orthopedic practices and specifically hip and knee replacements.

The way it USED to work is when you fell and had to have hip replacement surgery, you would receive up to 100 days of skilled care, as long as you were making progress in therapy (and also assuming you had been out of the system for 60 full days – see prior blog post).

Now, with this new initiative, Medicare has decided in advance roughly how long it should take to rehab a person who has hip or knee replacement surgery.  Medicare takes the time they think it takes a 90-year-old and the time it takes a 50-year-old and then averages the period into something in the middle. They do not take into consideration any co-morbid conditions, which most 90-year-olds have, nor do they consider the additional complication of Dementia.

So, for the purposes of this explanation, let’s assume Medicare says it should take a person 20 days of rehab to recover from hip surgery….if the nursing home disagrees, and keeps a patient on for longer, then the Orthopaedic practice gets less money.  Next time they have a patient to send, perhaps they won’t choose that nursing home.  The nursing home, which was trying to do the right thing now goes out of business. Furthermore, this is a system that ultimately does not benefit the patient.

Let me explain further.  In a bundled payment environment, Medicare has decided, in advance, how much a hip replacement should cost, including hospitalization, skilled nursing, and home care. The physician’s practice is given a bundled payment for all of those services and then they hire a management firm (in my case, Remedy out of CT) to manage the various vendors involved in my father’s care. The incentive on paper is to make sure that no one is keeping my father on too long to milk the system (I am guessing).  The sad byproduct of this, of course, is that patients like my father, who may need a bit more time than the average, due to his co-morbid conditions, will end up two ways:

  1. He will be pushed out of skilled care before he is fully ready and,
  2. The nursing home, which has done an excellent job with my dad will be penalized if they keep him on until he is fully ready

And the real victim, of course, is the patient:  my dad.  If they discharge him before he is ready, he will be back into the system sooner than later.

3 Things I have Learned From Taking Care of My Dad

lefthand

When you take care of the elderly, it is 100% on-the-job-training.  There is no manual.  And what you encounter…well, you just can’t make this stuff up.

A little background first…my dad has Parkinson’s Disease.  He had been treated with the standard Parkinson’s meds for years but this past summer, after his first fall and fracture, we took him off this medication as we thought it may have been the cause of his fast onset of dementia-like symptoms.  At the time, we were operating as if he had fallen into a state of temporary delirium, something that is quite common with the elderly after the trauma he had experienced with this fracture and subsequent hospital stay.

The symptoms didn’t go away, however, but his Parkinson’s symptoms came back with a very loud roar, so last week, we re-started the Parkinson’s medication.  With Sinemet, the gold standard in Parkinson’s meds, a patient takes a dose throughout the day.  As the medication wears off, the symptoms return.  Therefore, when you are incorporating rehab into your day, you’ll want to time your session shortly after another dose of the medication is taken.  Not rocket science, yes?

LESSON #1:  DON’T ASSUME THE LEFT-HAND KNOWS WHAT THE RIGHT-HAND IS DOING

I found out, quite by accident, that the therapy folks were not coordinating the timing of their sessions with my dad with the nursing staff, who were giving him his medication.

LESSON #2: YOU HAVE TO BE OVERSEEING EVERY DETAIL OF YOUR PARENT’S CARE. YOU ARE THE KEEPER OF THE “BIG PICTURE.”

And finally, it is, I believe, impossible to take care of your mom or dad from afar.  I did this for about 10 years before I finally put my foot down and moved him across the country to be near me. You cannot possibly manage someone’s care properly unless you see them frequently, attend doctor’s appointments with them etc.  I also believe that after the age of 75, it becomes nearly impossible for a person to consider moving.  They begin to operate their lives using visual cues more and taking them out of their familiar environment can really throw them cognitively.  We are all living longer and eventually, we will all be dealing with this period in our lives.  My advice…and one I plan to follow…is to move near your kids (or whomever you have designated to be your healthcare proxy) before the age of 75.  That way, you get to enjoy being near them before you become so needy.

LESSON #3:  MOVE YOUR PARENT CLOSE TO YOU WHILE YOU CAN STILL ENJOY HAVING THEM NEARBY

My father never wanted to move. He gave me all the standard lines:

I have lived here for over 50 years;  my friends are all here;  I’d be a burden.  The usual statements you are likely to hear.

Here’s the truth:

  1. If you live long enough, as my dad has, many of his friends will pre-decease him.
  2. If you  move when you are still young enough, you’ll have the opportunity to make new friends.  If you wait too long, and you develop dementia, or Alzheimer’s, you won’t be making friends as you will be too compromised to do so.
  3. The burden story?  We all become a burden to our kids at some point.  It’s part of the circle of life.  It would have been SO MUCH BETTER to have had my dad living near me for at least 5 years prior to his slide into dementia.  Taking care of him without the benefit of those happy memories to draw upon – well, that’s where it feels like a burden.