Finding someone to care for an ill or aged relative at home can be challenging. Sorting through the options can be time-consuming, and the need to find help may arise during a crisis, when decisions must be made quickly.
Hoping to help consumers make those choices — and to help themselves stand out in a competitive field — some home health agencies are seeking voluntary accreditation by independent organizations.
"This market is crowded," said Margherita C. Labson, executive director of the home care program at the Joint Commission, one of the major health care accreditation organizations. "These companies had no credible way of distinguishing themselves as better than others in the marketplace."
The nonprofit Joint Commission is one of three groups recognized by the federal government as accreditors of a variety of home health agencies. Its seal of approval is one route toward the certification a provider needs to receive payment from Medicare, the federal health program for those over 65. The other two groups are the Community Health Accreditation Program and the Accreditation Commission for Health Care.
"We wanted some measure of quality beyond our own internal measures," said Sharon Roth Maguire, the chief clinical quality officer at BrightStar Care, a Chicago home care franchiser with 261 locations nationally, including the Tampa Bay area, that does not accept Medicare. "It's one thing to say we're committed to quality, but another to demonstrate it to another third party."
BrightStar is one of two large home care operators recognized by the Joint Commission for having at least 95 percent of its franchise locations accredited. The second is CareMinders, based near Atlanta. To become accredited by the Joint Commission, an agency must undergo detailed reviews and on-site visits, including direct observation of patient caregiving, every three years.
New regulations also are driving interest in home health accreditation, Labson said. Hospitals are now penalized if patients are readmitted too quickly after being discharged, so they are looking for providers who can demonstrate that they can help make the transition to home go smoothly.
A lack of accreditation does not necessarily mean the agency is not offering quality care, but it offers one way to gauge its commitment to high standards. "An agency is probably not going to be accredited if they aren't at least striving to be a cut above," said Amy Goyer, an adviser to the AARP on family caregiving issues.
Agencies, however, pay fees to be evaluated for accreditation, she noted, so that can add to the costs — especially if you are seeking someone to provide personal care like help with bathing or eating, rather than nursing care, which might involve cleaning and dressing wounds or administering medication. Smaller operators may offer quality care, but may not yet be able to afford the accreditation process. "You may be paying more than you otherwise might be," Goyer said.
While accreditation is usually voluntary, Florida requires home health providers to be accredited by one of the three major groups to be licensed.