For the first time, Mainers considering whether to hire a home health care aide can now compare the quality of agencies that provide them.

Home health care aides typically care for elderly residents and those recovering from injuries, or provide hospice care.

A new “star rating” system was unveiled Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and 26 agencies in Maine were given ratings ranging from 2½ to four stars on a five-star scale. Maine’s agencies performed about the same as the national average of 3½ stars, according to the CMS website.

Medicare has previously published ratings for hospitals, nursing homes and doctors.

About 50,000 Mainers use home health care or hospice services, according to the Home Care and Hospice Alliance of Maine.

The criteria used to calculate the ratings include timeliness; administering flu shots; how well aides helped reduce patients’ pain and improve their mobility and breathing; and how often patients were admitted to the hospital.

Colleen Hilton, chief executive of VNA Home Health Hospice in South Portland, which received four stars, said the site is helpful when patients and their families are deciding which home health agency to use.

“It’s always good to provide the public information,” said Hilton, also the mayor of Westbrook. “It’s really important for people to know what they’re dealing with.”

Hilton said the criteria used to rate the home health agencies are fair and the patient outcomes are what the agencies should be striving for.

“We’re trying to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations, and if we’re doing our job, this is what we’re working toward anyway,” Hilton said. VNA Home Health Hospice employs more than 400 and serves more than 1,000 patients per year.

Maine’s population has the oldest median age in the nation, and health advocates are pushing to provide as much help in the home as possible, so people can remain in their houses rather than go to nursing homes or rehab centers.

Betsy Sawyer-Manter, executive director of Seniors Plus, a Lewiston-based agency that helps families decide which home health agency to hire, among other services for the elderly, said the website is a useful tool for families and Seniors Plus employees.

“People are becoming better consumers, and the more information to help them make a decision, the better,” Sawyer-Manter said.

She said she likes that the website shows specific data for each criteria, as opposed to only giving an overall star rating. For instance, a patient can look up a home health agency and see that 90 percent of patients with the agency improved their mobility.

She said the home health industry is only going to keep expanding as Maine ages and the trend of giving people care at home continues to become more popular.

“We already have a very high threshold for admittance to a nursing home in Maine,” Sawyer-Manter said. “The demand for home health care is only going to keep increasing.”

The website is www.medicare.gov/homehealthcompare/

 


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