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As many as 1,400 Houston-area home health care providers have been shut down since February, and thousands more have faced financial ruin, according to a new report by the National Association of Home Health Care Providers.
The association, which represents about 4,500 local and regional health care provider associations, estimates that some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses were caused by the federal government shutdown.
“We’ve seen this before,” said James S. Davenport, the association’s executive director.
“But this was an outlier.”
The shutdown affected the home health workers and the people they serve, including nursing homes and hospitals.
A majority of home health providers were hit by the shutdown, but others have been forced to cut back hours and shut down clinics.
The shortage of beds is leading to an increase in patient demand and higher costs, which has led to the shutdowns, said Mark Zipperer, the health care industry’s top executive.
He blamed the shutdown on the Affordable Care Act and other provisions, which he said have “destroyed” the private sector.
Health care providers, including home health aides, registered nurses, dietitians and social workers, are among the affected workers.
In a statement, Davenports called for federal action to “secure the future of the industry.”
“We are seeing the effects of the shutdown in our community,” he said.
“While some providers are closing, there are still thousands of people that are struggling to find affordable health care and must resort to unsafe or unreliable providers.
The National Association is asking Congress to work with the administration to provide funding to help these providers find new jobs and support them as they adjust to a world without insurance and other safety net provisions.”
The Associated Press reported that some home health employees and providers are also struggling to make ends meet as some health care workers are being forced to seek higher-paying positions elsewhere.
Home health workers have been targeted by health care reform, the AP reported, and have faced increased costs as well as fewer hours.
“It’s not going to end until we get the Affordable Healthcare Act passed, and we’re going to have to make some tough choices in the health system,” Davenways said.
But the closure of some home care facilities was particularly severe.
Some of the largest providers of home care in Houston, including some of those in the city’s West End neighborhood, were closed to residents and staff.
According to the AP, the number of people staying at a home health center was down about 30% in February, compared with January.
That decline was mostly attributed to fewer beds and fewer people staying in the facilities.
The AP reported that the number that left a home for an extended period of time rose by about 20% in the month after the shutdown.
As a result, the numbers of people leaving the homes decreased, and the overall numbers of home visits declined.
Home Health Centers, which provide home health services to people ages 65 and older and other individuals, have also seen a drop in demand.
The Houston Chronicle reported that a record amount of home visitors, including more than 50,000 visits to a single provider, has declined in the past month.
And the number who have come to the health center has decreased by about 30%, according to the paper.
The closures have had a negative effect on providers, according the AP.
“These closures are really hurting people,” said Zipperers spokesman.
“They’re hurting their employees.
They’re hurting the business that they do.
And they’re hurting patients, because it makes it difficult for them to get the care they need.”
A group of Houston home health professionals, who had been seeking better pay and benefits, also reported the shutdown to the association.
They were among the first to report the shutdowns to the state, and their pleas were ignored, said Zennier.
“I don’t think they realized that people had been impacted,” he added.
D’Angelo said that home health centers should have been able to provide services for years before the shutdown and that the problems with access are a direct result of the federal shutdown.
He said the association would seek to work together with the Houston city administration to get additional money for the providers.
But it remains to be seen whether any of the money that would help the health centers will be available.
“Right now, we’re seeing what happened with the Affordable Health Care Act, and people aren’t receiving the services that they need,” Zennerer said.