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Archive for Sunday, May 24, 1998

VISITING NURSES NOT HOBBLED

May 24, 1998

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The Balanced Budget Act of 1996 signaled hard times for home health agencies that depend on Medicare money, but the Visiting Nurses Assn. is meeting demands.

By Chris Koger

The Visiting Nurses Assn. of Douglas County's budget and patient numbers are holding study, despite recent changes in Medicare reimbursement policies.

First-quarter figures from this year indicate the agency hasn't hit a deficit, VNA Director Marceil Lauppe said after the agency's recent annual meeting.

``Our indigent care fund is tight, but even that fund carries a small surplus,'' Lauppe said.

Salaries, travel and education expenses have been cut, office space has been downsized and pension plan bonus payments have been put on hold for 1998 after Congress enacted the Balanced Budget Act in 1996.

The act also covers changes in Medicare reimbursements to hospitals and hospice associations and includes anti-fraud and abuse legislation.

The legislation calls for $115 billion in cuts to the Medicare budget over the next five years. A new provision is a yearly cap on what Medicare will pay for each person seen at home. VNA's 1998 budget was set months before the Health Care Finance Administration, which regulates Medicare, set the cap.

Fears that the cuts would force VNA to see fewer patients haven't been supported. The annual report showed that VNA provided care to 1,128 patients in 1997, a slight increase from 1996. More patients were seen in Baldwin and Eudora, Lauppe said.

The numbers were reported after the organization's budget was cut 6 percent and staff numbers were reduced.

``Home health agencies are facing a difficult and uncertain time,'' Lauppe said. ``But here at VNA, I see team spirit and a continued commitment to provide excellent care by a strong team of 20 nurses, 15 rehab staff and 35 certified home health aides.''

Home health agencies depend heavily on the Medicare money, and the VNA received about $2 million of its $3.3 million 1996 budget from Medicare. The 1998 budget, approved by board members Wednesday, is $3.02 million.

Also at the annual meeting, Mindy Mitchell, chief nursing officer at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, was approved to serve a three-year term on the VNA board, and current board members Joe Kelly and Kevin Stuever accepted another term.

-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is ckoger@ljworld.com.

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