KU, LMH partner for pilot program to decrease hospital readmissions

Adult nurse practitioner Jayne Mitchell watches at right as patient Marlena Bechtel-Rysdam, from Elgin, Ore., practices using an electronic monitoring device called a Health Buddy at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, Ore., in this Jan. 30 file photo. Hospitals are under new pressure from Medicare to slow a pricey revolving door — the number of people who are rehospitalized only weeks after they left for problems that could have been prevented. Lawrence Memorial Hospital has partnered with Kansas University to conduct a pilot program matching volunteers with recently discharged patients to help them in the weeks following their hospital stay.

Being released after hospitalization doesn’t always mean the patient is back to normal health. Oftentimes patients with chronic diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or heart failure, are re-hospitalized within the same month.

Lawrence Memorial Hospital, partnered with the Kansas University School of Social Welfare Office of Aging and Long Term Care, is conducting a pilot program to see if they can decrease that number and increase the overall quality of life for patients living with chronic diseases.

“About 20 percent readmit within 30 days, and that costs Medicare billions (of dollars) a year,” Linda Gall, LMH director of care coordination, said. “We continue to strive to decrease readmissions and be sure patients have everything they need — not just physical needs but emotional needs — that keep them healthy for a successful recovery at home.”

Lawrence Memorial Hospital Endowment Association was responsible for writing the grant for the program. It received $25,000 from the Kemper Foundation for the initial program.

“We’re trying to reach out beyond the LMH walls and make sure patients get everything they need,” Sarah Smith, LMH endowment association development specialist, said.

The Peer Support and Wellness for Older Adults Program matches volunteers with a recently discharged patient who is similar in age and interests. The volunteer will visit the patient at the patient’s home for one hour twice a week for 10 weeks. Together the volunteer and patient will work to outline goals for the patient and the volunteer will help the patient to follow a new lifestyle plan.

“Having that volunteer is just another layer to help see what will work at home for that patient,” Gall said. “It’s not so much targeting medical, technical issues but more living life; how do I live life with this chronic disease?”

When a patient is discharged from the hospital, they’re given instructions for readjusting to life at home, but Gall said that often they’re just ready to go home and don’t necessarily pay complete attention to what they need to do once they get there.

It can also be overwhelming to not have consistent support to help the patient follow their new lifestyle regimen. By providing a volunteer, the hospital is giving the patient a person to ask questions, to connect with and to provide support.

“This program is a pilot that was developed from another program to see if this does affect readmission rates, whether it does improve quality of life for clients and does it work, is it a viable program,” said Allyson Leland, LMH director of volunteer services.

The previous program conducted by the Office of Aging and Long Term Care was aimed at older adults and was adapted for this program to focus on patients with more physical, chronic conditions.

“In our previous study, people who went through the program had significant reduction in depression symptoms and increase in quality of life,” said Sarah Landry, project coordinator and doctoral student.

KU has the added role of the evaluation portion of the program by having patients and volunteers fill out questionnaires through the process, by tracking the progress of the patients and evaluating the program as a whole, but KU and LMH are working together to recruit volunteers and participants.

Volunteers must be 55 years or older and have transportation access. They will go through an interview and screening process and, if chosen, will receive training before being matched with a patient. The training for the program includes reviewing the basics of COPD and heart failure, mental health symptoms that often accompany living with a chronic disease, and basic strategies and tips for managing those conditions.

“We’ve gotten some really great people interested in being volunteers, and if others are interested in participating in a high-impact volunteer experience, that’d be fantastic,” Landry said.

The first training day for the program is scheduled for Friday and a second date is tentatively set for early April. If interested in participating in the program as a volunteer, community members should contact Leland at 505-3141 or Landry at 864-3823.