Despite facing major challenges, Texas hospitals have performed well under the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with additional support and strategic partnerships, some hospitals have seized the opportunity to truly excel—offering a model other health care leaders can use to perform even better.
Even as hospitalizations surged, one hospital system leveraged its innovative partnership with a leading home health provider to manage the capacity crunch and improve the quality of care.
An Innovative Partnership
In September 2017, CHRISTUS Health — a Catholic, not-for-profit system made up of more than 600 centers, including more than 60 hospitals — finalized a unique joint-venture partnership (JV) with LHC Group, a leading national provider of in-home health care services. The goal of the partnership was to improve care for patients by enhancing home health, long-term acute-care services, hospice care, and community-based services.
At the time, CHRISTUS executives foresaw the importance of the partnership in streamlining the continuity of care for patients who could benefit from additional services following discharge from the hospital. This approach also enables hospital systems and partners to properly track each patient from the beginning of the acute-care experience and throughout the care delivery journey.
“As an organization that strives to always be ahead of the curve, we’ve been extremely grateful to partner with LHC Group to help complement our strengths and ensure the continuity of care for patients as they transition from the hospital into post-acute settings, including the patient’s home and hospice,” said Paul Generale, CHRISTUS Health’s executive vice president, chief strategy and health network officer. “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was incredibly important for us to provide our patients and their families the best quality and compassionate care beyond the doors of our hospitals and clinics. Today, streamlining care is absolutely critical for improving patient outcomes.”
The JV was finalized in 2017, and it quickly began showing promise in increasing cost efficiencies, streamlining continuity of care between the hospital and home health services, and, ultimately, enhancing patient outcomes. Quality metrics have consistently climbed, and — most tellingly — they continued to improve even during the worst global pandemic in a century. With hospital capacity in Texas running low in some areas due to surges in COVID-19 cases, the home health partnership empowered CHRISTUS to ensure that patients recovered at home when clinically appropriate.
Home Health Was Critical Amid the COVID-19 Crisis
While COVID-19 posed an enormous challenge for hospitals throughout 2020, the urgency of the problem became most evident in the lead up to the winter holidays, as cases — and hospitalizations — surged. Facing wave after wave of critically-ill patients, many hospitals struggled to find open beds and free up much-needed resources. By mid-December, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimated that at least 50 Texas hospitals were at more than 98% capacity, including 27 hospitals with completely full ICUs.
As hospitalizations increased, the value of the home health partnership took on a new and vitally important role. While CHRISTUS increased its critical care capacity and provided virtual support tools for monitoring patients at home, home health provided a safe transition for less acute patients and created much-needed relief for hospital staff to increase capacity. Thanks to a solid home health partnership already in place, CHRISTUS was able to relieve pressure on its hospital system without sacrificing quality.
“Even with an influx of higher acuity patients, we achieved 5-star status in the fourth quarter of 2020 thanks in part to our commitment to ensuring continuity of care through home health,” said Sam Bagchi, M.D., executive vice president and system chief clinical officer for CHRISTUS Health and a board member of the JV with LHC Group. “Thirty-day re-hospitalizations dropped to single digits, well below the national average.”
Dr. Bagchi attributed this success to years of developing a strong and steady momentum heading into the pandemic, as CHRISTUS and LHC Group seamlessly worked together and coordinated efforts.
“What differentiates our partnership with LHC Group from others is that LHC Group staff members had become a part of our CHRISTUS family and were a partner at the table for our strategic discussions on post-acute care in general — well before the outbreak of COVID-19,” continued Dr. Bagchi. “This helped us immensely during the pandemic and is a prime example of how strong partnerships make a difference in our communities. Additionally, we were able to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to almost 350 LHC Group employees across the state, proving yet again that these relationships can benefit all stakeholders, including the hospital system, the home health agency and, most importantly, the patient.”
LHC Group leaders also touted the success of the partnership throughout the pandemic.
“Our partnership with CHRISTUS demonstrates the incredible value a home health JV can offer in enabling the delivery of care to move outside the walls of a hospital,” said Lindsay C. Boyd, RN, area executive director for LHC Group, which operates locally as CHRISTUS VNA HomeCare – San Antonio/CHRISTUS HomeCare Spohn – Corpus Christi. “Observationally, across the state of Texas we have received nearly three-fourths (74%) of our COVID-19 patient referrals from facilities to home health from JV partners, which we think demonstrates how these partnerships have been particularly vital over the last year and will continue to be so into the future.”
The public health emergency has further strengthened the trust between CHRISTUS and LHC Group, and proven to both organizations that, with a strong partnership, high standards for patient care can be consistently achieved in the best and the worst of times.
The success of the partnership suggests a way for hospitals to continue improving care for Texans well into the future. By looking to home health partners, hospital systems can be better prepared to tackle the challenges posed by COVID-19 and any future pandemics. But even once things return to “normal,” ensuring continuity of care will be critical for helping hospitals manage capacity, achieve cost savings, and improve patient health outcomes. In short, mutually beneficial arrangements like the CHRISTUS-LHC Group partnership are replicable, and can pay major dividends to forward-thinking hospital systems.
“This is a real success story,” said Dr. Bagchi. “Our partnership proved its mettle and continues to do so during a public health crisis that is not yet over.”