Apr 232013

by Benjamin Kuder

Every Community-based Care Transitions Program (CCTP) in the country (of which there are now 102, funded by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid [CMS]) aims to balance targeted, evidence-based interventions to patient needs. CCTP teams know that every avoidable readmission has a story behind it. The Area Agency on Aging 1-B (AAA 1-B), seeks to meet care transitions needs for elders in two of their counties, Oakland and Macomb, with an innovative multilayer strategy.

CMS directed communities applying to participate in the CCTP to conduct a root-cause analysis, so that they could build a CCTP that meets community needs. The AAA 1-B found that it could deliver the highest priority services by dividing the population based on five clinical needs:

1.Care Transitions Intervention (CTI) Coaching: Following the self-activation model developed by Dr. Eric Coleman, this strategy empowers participants with coaching that helps them find the strategies that enable the patient to take charge of recovery and achieve personal goals. Through increased health literacy and greater confidence, individuals with chronic conditions are better able to make decisions about their care and recovery, and insist that clinicians provide appropriate help.

2.CTI Coaching with Behavioral Intervention: Many patients experience mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and serious mental illnesses, which contribute to frequent readmissions. In this strategy, a behavioral health coach works with patients to provide support and mitigate some of the problems that can hinder recovery.

3.CTI Coaching with In-Home Services: This strategy provides coaching and referrals to in-home services, such as meal delivery or transportation to the doctor, which help reduce risk of readmission.

4.Coaching with Multiple Interventions & Hospice: Coaches connect with patients who have little family support and who do not want home care or hospice, and try to reconnect them with supportive services and initiate longer-term care planning.

5.Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) Transitions Coaching: Skilled nursing facilities in the area had especially high readmission rates, so this strategy provides coaching for better transitions from the hospital to the SNF and from SNF to home. Coaches meet with participants and their caregivers before hospital discharge, again shortly after nursing home admission, and then shortly before discharge from the SNF. In addition, the coach also discusses differences between the nursing home and hospital, how to pursue personal goals, and how to find help to achieve these goals at the nursing home. The coach also works with the participant and caregiver to complete the personal health record modified for the SNF and encourages them to participate in the care plan meeting. The coach also engages hospital and nursing facility partners to increase communication and improve shared processes.

Tailoring these strategies to the five distinctive categories of patients allows AAA 1-B to provide high-value transitions coaching to virtually everyone. “Many of the coaches say people have been dealing with chronic conditions so long and no one has asked them their opinion on their plan of care,” says Barbra Link, director of care transitions for AAA 1-B, “Coaches help them to get tools to self-activate. That’s the most powerful thing. That’s the foundation of the program.”

Participants in the program must be referred from AAA 1-B’s partner hospitals, have traditional Medicare, and either have one of the targeted conditions (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart attack, pneumonia, or congestive heart failure) or, any condition with a readmission within the last 90 days.

The AAA 1-B Care Transitions Coach assigns each beneficiary to a category using a risk assessment completed by the hospital’s care management team. The program also allows Strategy #1 Coaches to refer the participant to a Specialty Coach (Strategy 2, Strategy 4, and Strategy 5) when appropriate. All coaches provide Strategy 1 and Strategy 3 Coaching but may consult with Specialty Coaches whenever needed.

The AAA 1-B project is about 10 months into its initial two years, with the possibility of renewal for the following three years. All five strategies are operating, and 650 beneficiaries have enrolled. Although the first strategy has the highest volume of people (67 percent), the other strategies are proving to be just as important for elders who need more support.

The CCTP team quickly recognized that project leaders and staff must watch for problems that call for different remedies. For example, when AAA 1-B leaders observed that many of the program’s vulnerable elders did not understand their nutrition needs, they reached out to a nutritionist at a partner hospital to develop simple, accessible, one-page flyers for patients regarding nutrition. One flyer explained how to cut back on dietary sodium and how to calculate sodium intake from a nutrition facts label. Through close interactions with the patients, coaches were able to identify and respond to specific nutritional problems that would not have otherwise been apparent.

In its CCTP, AAA 1-B has a coalition with three local hospitals that had some of the highest readmissions rates in the state. Creating these coalitions, while ultimately quite beneficial, did present some initial challenges. Before implementing the program, AAA 1-B leaders had to help all stakeholders understand the benefits of the program. Once this had been done, referrals from the hospitals took a major upswing.

According to Barbra Link, “We found that each hospital is unique, and lots of relationship-building was required. Once we established greater trust and better understood the system, things seemed to go well.” The future of this program involves moving toward a larger community-based coalition with more community organizations. Link explains, “We are trying to move into becoming a learning network. Our focus will be information exchange and growing as a coalition. Now that the program is up and running, we can work on this over the next year.”

AAA 1-B also collaborates with other CCTP organizations nationwide. Through regional and national phone calls and virtual learning sessions, they share best practices and solve problems together. In this way, AAA 1-B is spreading its innovative multilayer approach to reducing hospital readmissions and empowering patients.

This article originally ran on the Altarum Institute Health Policy Forum on April 18, 2013.


key words: care transitions, CCTP, community-based, Area Agency on Aging

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