HHC_1.jpgKENT KRIEGSHAUSER/The Register-Mail

John Smallwood, 92, of Warren County, is visited by Cathy Young, left, a certified nurses aide, and Amy Whiteside, an R.N. Both women are with Western Ill. Home Health Care and assist Smallwood in his home.

Home care more than just health

Western Illinois Home Health Care celebrates 25 years


Boys & Girls Club

Sunday, November 11, 2007

MONMOUTH - There have been many changes in the home health-care field over the past 25 years, but Western Illinois Home Health Care, a pioneer in the field in this area, has changed with the times.

November is National Home Care Month.

WIHHC, with offices in Monmouth and Galesburg, just concluded its celebration of a quarter century in business.

"Back in '81, medicine was very different," said Anita Rutzen, director of clinical services for WIHHC. "In the '80s, that's when hospitals went to the diagnostic groups and hospital stays became much shorter."

A survey in 1981 showed 18 percent of the public knew what home care was. By 1992, a poll by Louis Harris and Associates showed 89 percent of Americans were aware of home care and supported federal expansion of it.

"We're such an infant part of health care," said Barb Byers, president and CEO of WIHHC.

Paid-service provider

A major factor in WIHHC's success was when it became a Blue Cross Blue Shield provider in 1986. That meant WIHHC was a paid-service provider.

"We would go in and do an assessment," Rutzen said. "That would translate into a score used to determine how much" we would be paid. It brought a level of stability to the business.

In 1994, WIHHC became the state provider for disabled individuals under the Department of Rehabilitation.

WIHHC has about 100 employees, including registered nurses, certified nurses' aides, therapists and social workers. Byers said the aging baby-boomer generation will mean the need for home care will continue to grow.

"You look at the demographics," she said. "The majority of the people are going to be over 65" in just a few years.

Home care is becoming much more than just health care. Alice Stenander, director of support services, said personal assistants and nurses' aides help with many aspects of daily living, such as doing dishes, helping clean the patient's house, or taking them to activities. Because these staffers see the clients on a daily basis, they not only help them get well, they help them stay healthy.

"They come up with observations that will often prevent hospital stays," she said. "It enhances the services that they signed up for."

With laptop computers, many nurses spread across the company's 10-county area spend little time in the office. Having personnel over a wide geographic area can be invaluable.

"With our last ice storm, we were taking care of two people and all their relatives were out of the area on vacation. One person fell and a relative called and said 'we need you to take care of everything,' " Stenander said.

"We teach our workers to be not only caring but resourceful," Stenander said. "Communication is really important with the supervisor."

Coming home

Byers said some patients need additional care when they return home.

"Some coming out of the hospital, we have them under 24-hour care," she said. "Then we'll taper that down as they stabilize."

"It really makes for peace of mind for the relatives," Stenander said.

Rutzen said that is evident by the amount of contact with patients' families.

"That's part of being a resource," she said. "Every week, there are phone calls from relatives who don't know where to turn."

In this technology age, not only are cell phones and laptop computers important for home care field employees, it's a good way for the agency to connect with families.

"When I deal with families, I find myself not only taking addresses and phone numbers, I also get family members' e-mails and cell phone numbers," Stenander said.

There are other challenges. Monmouth has a growing Hispanic population. Rutzen, who was in the home care field for 10 years in New York City before returning to Monmouth, speaks Spanish.

"That has come in handy, where I've been able to go out and be the nurse in those cases," she said.

Changing nursing homes

Nursing homes also are evolving.

"It used to be when you went into a nursing home, that was it," Stenander said. "Now, they're more about rehabilitation. That's a transition also, from the nursing home to home."

Many types of therapy are offered at home, including speech, physical and occupational therapy. Certified psychiatric care also is available. Wound care is an important service.

Byers said the national organization sees a future with home health care at the center of a patient's care. She said that will be driven by technology and cost, with technology being used to reduce costs whenever possible.

And, although home care can ease the burden on children of elderly parents, it is good for the parents.

"Sometimes it's better to have someone come in and be objective," Stenander said. "Sometimes parents resent the children telling them what to do."

"And sometimes it's one child that takes the burden," Byers said. Home care can give them a break.

"That's why I like my job, because people are so glad to see me," Stenander said.

The bottom line?

"Studies show they recover quicker in their homes," Byers said.


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