GILMAN — The Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department's home health care program might be discontinued — or at least restructured — because of its negative impact on the agency's budget.
The program has lost an average of $240,000 annually over the past six years, including a loss of $411,882 from December 2011 through November 2012, according to a document obtained by the Paxton Record through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Board of health members reviewed the same document at their July 30 meeting, when they were asked by Public Health Administrator Doug Corbett whether they wanted to cancel the program or move to a different "operational model" to help save costs.
"I think we've definitely got to look at it real hard," board of health member Rod Copas of rural Onarga said after the meeting.
Corbett, who has since been bought out of his contract as administrator, acknowledged that the home health program is "the biggest flaw in the budget" and always has been. But he also said the health department's mission is not to "make money off of it," but rather fill the health care needs of the public.
Corbett said the amount of money lost each year to operate the program depends on the number of visits the program's nurses must make to clients' homes. Corbett noted the agency receives one sum of money for each Medicare patient, regardless of the number of visits.
Meanwhile, overtime and mileage costs have put a financial burden on the program, Corbett said. He noted that unlike the home health program operated by Iroquois Memorial Hospital in Watseka — which serves the same area as the health department — "we don't get the clients that can come in and come out, and then they're done and taken care of. A lot of times we get clients that we have to go there (to their homes) once and twice a day.
"A lot of the patients we get referred to us for the very reason of — it's not that no one else wants to take care of them — but, I guess, they're deemed as not profitable. In our role, in public health, we've always said that it's our mission to provide services where the services are not being met."
Corbett added that the agency's bylaws state the agency is to operate a home health program. The program offers physical, occupational and speech therapy to residents of Ford and Iroquois counties. It serves an average of 140 Medicare patients per year, Corbett said.
Copas asked Corbett why he did not try to solve the negative spending earlier. The program has lost over $1 million in the past three years, Copas said.
Corbett said the health department did try to address the losses "from a marketing standpoint," as it attempted to bring in more clients.
But Corbett said he did not know until recently that there was another "operational model" the health department could use to help cut the losses.
Corbett suggested the health department explore the possibility of using the other model, which charges clients a fee for each visit. Corbett said another home health program operated by a bi-county health department in Illinois is using that model and has seen success. The other health department also has saved mileage costs by assigning its home-health nursing staff to specific areas of the service territory.
"If we opt to keep (our home health program) and you demand that the losses be at least cut in half, if not more, we're going to have to move to that model," Corbett said. "It's really the only way to increase productivity."