All-inclusive health center helps keep patients in own homes

Health care is a lot of things.

It is vital, expensive, politically divisive, sometimes frightening.

And near the top of the list, health care is complicated. For anyone who is sick, it is a challenge to keep track of appointments, prescriptions, procedures, tests and insurance issues, which only multiply as we get older.

Fortunately, the state has continued to expand a federally funded program that helps simplify the process for frail Medicare- and Medicaid-eligible patients 55 and older. The latest addition to the state-administered Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly network is the new AtlantiCare LIFE Connection center in Atlantic City.

Located in the William L. Gormley AtlantiCare HealthPlex, the facility offers a central location where an interdisciplinary team of professionals develops and coordinates a customized plan for health and social services, from primary health care to transportation, nutrition and personal care at a patient’s home.

According to the state Department of Human Services website, a PACE team meets regularly with each participant or a representative to assess the patient’s needs. A care plan usually integrates some home-care services from the team with several visits each week to the PACE center.

The Atlantic City facility is the sixth PACE location in the state. The first agencies began operating in 2009. Inspira LIFE opened in Vineland in 2011 and serves residents of Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester counties. The concept originated in San Francisco in the 1970s and was adopted by Medicare in 1997.

One of the main benefits is allowing elderly patients who require nursing-home level care to avoid or delay moving from their community into a long-term-care facility.

“The center helps us connect with older adults and help them get the most out of life in their last years of life,” says Dr. Richard Stefanacci, the AtlantiCare program’s medical director.

Officials say it took nearly seven years to secure the funding and approvals for the center, which they hope to have residents of Cape May and Atlantic counties using by Nov. 1. They expect to help as many as 160 people at a time. Statewide, about 1,000 elderly residents are benefiting from PACE facilities.

This is good news for the senior population that is growing both locally and nationally. In 2012, about 14 percent of the U.S. population was 65 or older. By 2030, that percentage will increase to more than 20 percent, with those 85 and older reaching 4.5 percent by 2050, according to U.S. Census numbers.

In addition to keeping more people in their homes and out of expensive nursing homes, the PACE program says it keeps down health care costs by reducing visits to the emergency room and hospital re-admission rates.

No matter what direction national leaders take with health care reform, PACE is an example of the type of innovation needed to make medical care less intimidating and less expensive.

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