Like a shock to the system, the COVID-19 emergency has catalyzed major changes throughout the healthcare continuum. Home healthcare providers in particular are forced to evolve in a variety of ways.
Dr. Bill Thomas, an industry ideological leader and aging expert, has always been at the forefront of home healthcare innovation. Last year, Thomas was particularly active in what he called a major transition of facility-based healthcare to a “21st century home and community-based system.”
Thomas is the co-founder of Minka, a company that creates small 3D-printed homes and communities. He is also the Independent Head of Lifesprk, a Minnesota-based home care provider, and is renowned for his holistic approach to care.
Home healthcare news caught up with Thomas and talked about where home healthcare is heading in the United States. The highlights of the conversation are: Edited for length and clarity.
HHCN: What does it mean to you to provide care in the 21st century? And how does your work over the past year reflect that?
Thomas: The work I’ve done has been about building exit ramps, routes that can help transform the healthcare system we have into the healthcare system we need. It may sound big and vague, but that’s what drives me — Development of alternative delivery system. All the work I do is tied to it.
As an example, I work for a company called Lifesprk. Lifesprk is actually working on building an entire community-based health and wellness system, not a large building. I love the concept and the drive. In the past, hospitals have been the center of the healthcare world, with home care like a distant outpost that is barely visible through binoculars. In the future, I think there will be more equality between hospitals and home care.
Large buildings with flashy lobbies still provide a lot of emergency care, but most of the actual service and support is provided in people’s homes and communities. That is the big change I see.
How has the elderly care industry, especially home care, evolved as a result of the COVID-19 emergency?
Every part of our healthcare system has been set up to meet this challenge. In every part of our healthcare system, there are people who have died while caring for others. Let’s be clear. This was a spectacular struggle.
But let me point out this point. Over 90% of all COVID patients in the United States have been cared for at home or in the community. The true center of the pandemic lies in the home and community, with the organization placed directly in front of the storm. Many of them got better, sharper, more effective, and livened up the game, as they tend to do when faced with disaster. COVID is a home and community-based pandemic, and I believe home healthcare providers play a central role in making us a successful country.
I don’t want to be seen as robbing people working in ICU, but they are dynamic and dramatic and will appear on the top page of the newspaper. But ICU was not the center of the pandemic.
What lessons should home healthcare providers learn from last year?
As we got out of this pandemic, the term “home care” seems to be a little out of date. It’s not our future. We will be at the crossroads of all the most important trends in US health and wellness.
Recently, I haven’t used the term home care. I have used “Home-based and community-based services and support”. This is a better explanation of what this is. In fact, I’ll probably talk to your boss and ask your boss to rename your publication to “HCBS News.”
Why should we change the way we speak about home care? “Service and support” is what people need. Often, they are not classic medical diagnoses and treatments. There is more to life than a prescription, and more to health and wellness than just medical services.
Home care lies in a complex web connection of services and support that enriches the lives of people in their homes and communities. We have super cool technology and companies like Lifesprk will increasingly become perfect partners with healthcare systems.
They will be at the table with the payer and the system. I’m pointing to Lifesprk. Because I think Lifesprk is far ahead of some other companies in this area. But I think the whole field has to do this. You have to attend a meeting where things are decided, and home care providers have a history of not attending meetings.
What are some of the current challenges and opportunities found in home care spaces? Or do you have to say in a home and community based service space?
What is clear is to gather the right workforce to carry out this task. In all areas of health care, the highest paid professionals work in large hospitals. That’s the peak, and there are people going down to help people’s homes.
We need to stop home care and start designing, developing, testing and deploying a matrix of services and support to maintain people’s health and independence. It’s a different business than “I ran a 1,000-hour home care service last month.” The key to getting the workforce you need is through value proposition. If you are considered a lagging part of a huge industry, you will not have people who demand to join you. Position yourself as an exciting new frontier in medicine, nursing, treatment, care, support and technology. That way you can attract really exciting people there.
At the end of last month, I heard the news of Biden’s American Jobs Plan proposal. This will increase funding for home and community-based services. It demands Congress revert $ 400 billion to home care. If that happens, how will this affect home care?
I think it’s like water for seedlings. I think this money will give entrepreneurs and innovators the confidence that this is going to be maintained for a period of time. It never becomes “one complete”. I think it nourishes young families and community-based service industries that are not yet fully developed. We are coming out of the home care cocoon right now.
The Biden administration is ahead of the game in identifying this as an important sector. I pay attention to the fact that they didn’t say $ 400 billion for home health care.
In a sense, this is a continuation of affordable care practices and has introduced some very important systems into Medicare designed to reduce hospitalization abuse in the elderly. A few years later, we are seeing greater progress in that regard.
With this type of funding, over time, more people will receive more services and support at home, and fewer will receive a limited set of services in an acute care environment.That’s the pendulum swing — and this $ 400 billion pushes the already swinging pendulum
We recently wrote about vaccine hesitation among caregivers. How do home healthcare providers fight it?
My main focus is on the candid public health, education and outreach techniques described in the book. We already know how to deal with the hesitation of many interventions. I think the American public health system has many proven methods and techniques for tackling vaccine illiteracy and hesitation. What I see is that most organizations use that playbook.
The main focus is on education, outreach and reducing the number of people who have not yet been vaccinated. I think that’s probably the best approach so far.
In the past, we talked about how home healthcare providers have partnered with companies such as Uber and Lyft. What other innovative partnerships have you created these days?
Home and community-based service providers should really consider partnering with businesses to make it easier for people to supply their homes with food, fuel and electricity.
I think it’s a potential growth area. I think we need partnerships with companies with a variety of experience, from utilities to transportation, insurance to food.
You are also active in the senior living space. What does the future of senior living look like?
You’ll see home and community-based service providers entering the lives of older people.
It almost makes me laugh when I realize that I think of the lives of the elderly as a separate company from home and community-based services. Historically, the life of the elderly has been set as a kind of hospitality — a kind of land cruise ship atmosphere. It won’t go away, but it will disappear in the background. Instead, we think of these environments as really hot, cool, adaptable homes and communities that have already been built and are already sitting there.
With this strong connection of home-based and community-based services and support, you can pop your baby into the elderly living community! You are not trying to run a cruise ship on land, but to help people become happy and healthy. It brings wisdom and a lot of sophistication in that home-based and community-based service providers enter the realm of elderly life and provide services that were not previously part of the idea of elderly life.
Senior Care Innovator Bill Thomas: America Needs to Change the Way We Talk About “Home Care”
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