how Hackensack Meridian Health’s home healthcare services meet the evolving needs of an aging population and its caregivers

by jessica jones-gorman • Photos By Amessé Photography

By the year 2030, 20 percent of Americans will be 65 or older. Just as baby boomers have had an outsized impact on music, entertainment, and finance, they’re now imposing similar influence on healthcare, reshaping how and where services are delivered.

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The expression “aging in place” describes what most people want as they grow old—to stay in their homes and be as independent as possible for as long as they can. For 35 years, Hackensack Meridian Health has been at the forefront of helping patients do just that.

“This is truly an exciting time for patients and providers alike,” said Michelle Mendelson, vice president of Hackensack Meridian Health At Home. “As healthcare reform continues to evolve, the long-standing mindset that most healthcare needs be provided at a hospital or inpatient setting has changed. For example, in the past, a patient undergoing a knee or hip replacement would require a stay at an inpatient rehabilitation center before returning home. Today, many patients can go home immediately after surgery and even begin physical therapy at home the following day.”

Hackensack Meridian Health offers one of the most comprehensive menus of home care services in the region through Hackensack Meridian Health At Home and, more recently, a partnership—with St. Joseph’s Health System—to provide home care and hospice services in northern New Jersey under the names Visiting Health Services of New Jersey and VHS Hospice Services of New Jersey.

“Hackensack Meridian Health At Home is in a unique position among home healthcare providers in that we are part of a nationally recognized hospital and healthcare network,” said Mendelson. “Our services and best practices represent the highest standards of excellence. The leadership at Hackensack Meridian Health was not only visionary in its commitment to providing care in all settings—from hospitals to inpatient and outpatient services and centers—but also to broadening the spectrum of services and programs available in the home.”

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For many patients and caregivers, home healthcare services may not be part of the initial discussions about care planning and management. This hospital network is hoping to change that by educating consumers and caregivers about full-service home care offerings, which include nurses and health aides; physical, occupational, and speech therapies; infusion therapy using a patient’s own pharmacy; respiratory therapy and oxygen; medical equipment and supplies including continuous positive airway pressure machines for sleep apnea; specialty programs for cardiac and orthopedic care; medication management; chronic disease management; tele-health; and hospice care. Through these and other services, Hackensack Meridian Health can meet the needs of patients and families dealing with temporary injury or illness, chronic conditions, and progressive disease.

“We are constantly evaluating our services and care solutions, providing more assistance to patients and families in challenging circumstances,” added Mendelson. “A few years ago, we created an umbrella of programs called Life Transitions for patients and populations managing difficult changes in their lives. One program, Safe At Home Memory Care, supports patients and families dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Another program, Care on Call Now, is an advanced home safety program, medical alert, and assistance service that uses wireless technology. We recently added a service where a pharmacist will visit a patient’s home to do a complete assessment of medications to avoid accidental misuse. This program addresses an important need when patients return home from an inpatient stay with new, unfamiliar medications, and may also be on a variety of other medications to manage existing or chronic conditions.”

Helping patients manage their care in the critical weeks after discharge from a hospital is another area where Hackensack Meridian Health has been working closely with physicians. The Affordable Care Act and other healthcare legislation focus on reducing readmissions to hospitals in the weeks following a surgery or hospital stay.

“Home care services are now an integral part of providing support and resources to patients with chronic conditions,” said Mendelson. “These services also provide post-discharge support and care for the days and weeks after release from a care facility, when patients may need assistance managing and dressing wounds, may have limited mobility, may be dealing with a variety of new medications, or may just have questions or concerns.”

To further enhance the home care experience, medical equipment and supplies are also part of the outreach effort. Everything from oxygen and sleep apnea equipment to beds and safety devices can be delivered directly to the patient’s home as part of the continuum of care.

“We truly offer one-stop shopping for home health needs. Our services also include safety assessments of the home to identify potential hazards and improve mobility. We can even coordinate modifications to the home for access and safety like installing grab bars in bathrooms or even ramps for wheelchair access,” Mendelson added.

One area of growing importance to patients and families is hospice care. Though such care can be hard to talk about, including it in planning discussions is increasingly common for patients facing life-shortening illness and disease.

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“Hospice provides one-on-one personalized care delivered by a qualified, specially trained team,” Mendelson said. Our hospice team includes a physician medical director; certified nurses trained in hospice and palliative care; licensed clinical social workers; chaplains; hospice aides; and trained volunteers working closely with the patient’s physician and family. We also provide grief counseling and bereavement support groups to help loved ones after their loss. Having someone visit you where you feel safe and who is giving you 100 percent of their attention are the reasons why home healthcare exists. Of course, our primary focus is the patient, but this service is also to help the family. I often hear families say how much those final hours and days meant to them. That is so powerful to me. We work hard to allow out patients the utmost dignity and comfort. If we achieve that, we have done our job.”

As a pioneer in advancing the understanding of hospice care, Hackensack Meridian Health was chosen as one of only 140 U.S. hospice providers to participate in the Center for Medicare Service’s pilot program called Care Choices. It will allow patients with life-shortening conditions to receive some hospice care services and bene ts while continuing curative treatment. Historically, patients and families have had to choose between continuing curative treatment or receiving hospice care.  is new approach o ers both kinds of care to patients with certain conditions. Hackensack Meridian Health will begin implementing the program in January 2018.

According to Mendelson, it’s the network’s visionary approach and attention to detail that distinguishes hers from others in the home healthcare arena.

“Patient needs are complex and varied, which is why delivering the most comprehensive range of home care services—placing patient care, our commitment to excellence and quality, and the convenience of the safe and familiar surroundings of home at the forefront of everything we do—has become our mission,: she said. “It is an integral part of our growth, supporting the wide-ranging needs of the communities we serve. Our home and hospice care services not only help patients achieve the highest quality of life and life-sustaining care in a comfortable environment, they also provide emotional support for family members and caregivers, who often heroically care for their loved ones. Our goal is to be there for patients and families so they are never alone during life’s most difficult, stressful, uncertain, and challenging moments.”

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Hackensack Meridian Health At Home
800-560-9990 / hackensackmeridianhealth.org