Skip to content

Novus Hospice

Novus Hospice in Frisco accused of aggressively managed length of stay numbers by overdosing patients on continuous care.

Read more

Suicide Contagion


Every time a celebrity commits suicide, we pay attention to Depression and the tragic end outcome if Depression is not treated or does not respond to treatment; at least for a little while.

I have never owned a Kate Spade purse but I liked her. Together with her husband, they created a brand that took whimsy seriously and added color to our world.

Anthony Bourdain lived the life of my dreams; travel, adventure and food. Could there be more?

Neither Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain allowed their public personas to reflect the extent of their illness. This is understandable in terms of privacy but leaves many people shaking their heads because they can’t understand how celebrities who appear to have everything would choose to die.

Home healthcare patients are confined to their homes. Some have lost one or more spouses and may be separated from family who have moved to pursue careers. They are sick and many are in pain. Their outward presentation is that of a patient population at high risk for depression.

As it turns out, 20 percent of people over 65 are depressed and men in their 80’s have highest rate of suicide of all age groups.  Across the board, the rate of suicide is rising as funding for mental health is declining.

Suicide prevalence image

As of last week, patients are at an even greater risk for suicide due to the phenomenon of Suicide Contagion which is exactly what it sounds like.  Suicides occur in clusters almost appearing to be contagious like a virus.  In the four months after the loss of Robin Williams, the overall suicide rate increased by 10 percent. Google searches for suicide related topics increased after Netflix aired ‘13 Reasons Why’. There was a 25 percent increase in the number of calls to the National Suicide Prevention hotline in the two days following Anthony Bourdain’s death.

One reason has been attributed to journalism standards. There are journalistic guidelines for reporting suicides that nobody seems to follow. Near the top of the list is not reporting on the details of suicide.   When reporting on a suicide, the WHO also recommends including information on how to get help. Most initial reports of last week’s high profile deaths included this information – usually at the end of an article that might be missed – but as the days progressed, more attention was given to the ‘gossip’ and a few interesting conspiracy theories surrounding these stories.

But we’re not journalists so how does this pertain to nursing.  How many of your patients spend most of their waking hours tuned to the television news?  Depending on the reporter or news station, some news stories are almost like a tutorial or at best a psychological autopsy that is really none of our business.  Most nurses also have social media accounts.  Think twice before sharing or reposting a story that has sensational or dramatic headlines.

What should you do for your patients?

  • Regardless of prior diagnoses or risk factors, encourage your patient to do something other than consume the details of tragic suicides. You might investigate alternative viewing options, suggest some time outdoors, a book or a crossword.
  • Pay attention to your PHQ2 assessments. I am incredulous when reading about patients who start their day with a round of golf and end it with their chest opened with power tools due to a cardiac event. Three days later they are admitted to home healthcare and report zero days with little interest or pleasure of doing things or feeling down. A positive PHQ2 does not confirm a diagnosis of depression but it gives you a baseline and together with the physician, you can look at medication side effects, ensure the patient is able to sleep and address pain. If the patient doesn’t show improvement in two weeks, there is a strong possibility that he or she won’t participate in their plan of care to the extent that they can which will prolong healing and further treatment may be indicated.
  • If your patient is pre-loaded with a diagnosis of Depression and is on medication, take it from there. Don’t just assume it has been handled.  Teach side effects of meds, encourage socialization, educate the family, etc. Never assume that a med is going to work completely and consistently. After all, diabetic patients aren’t started on metformin and never checked again.
  • Talk about depression in the same tone that you talk about other diagnoses. Depression is seen by many from former generations as a weakness. Assure your patient that depression is an illness and is not a reflection on their character or inner strength.
  • Leave written information adjusted for the reading level and visual acuity of your patient about resources they can access if symptoms worsen. Put the information in a place that is obvious to the patient and near the phone.

Depression is not a normal part of aging. You can implement measures to improve your patient’s depression and dramatically improve the quality of their life. With mental health funding dwindling across the nation, we need to up our game.

Other Resources

Men and Depression – low literacy

Depression in the Elderly – low literacy

CDC Suicide Prevention Fact Sheet

A 36 Billion Cottage Industry

How home health and hospice visiting nurses can recognize financial exploitation of the elderly and who to call when they do.

Read more

UPIC


I admit that I was a little hopeful, if not disillusioned, when the new UPICs came to my attention.  After verifying that UPIC was not a ZPIC with a typo, I thought that maybe this was a special type of audit where you got to pick the charts you wanted to be reviewed like some people pick their own lottery numbers.  No such luck, I’m afraid.

UPICs are Unified Program Integrity Contractors.  UPICs will carry out program integrity functions for Medicare Parts A, B, Durable Medical Equipment Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies, Home Health and Hospice, Medicaid and Medicare-Medicaid data matching[i].  The primary objective of the UPIC is to identify fraud and abuse and make appropriate referrals.  Other agencies recoup overpayment and address recommendations to law enforcement addressing criminal or civil charges.  They can also recommend suspension of payment.  Whether or not the agency is notified in advance of the payment suspension depends on if the UPIC thinks it is possible that the provider will change it’s billing habits if it knows that payment will stop.  Think about that for a minute.  Who wouldn’t change their billing habits if they knew payment was coming to an abrupt halt?

UPICs, like ZPICs can request clinical records, verification of licensure, copies of claims, etc.  The most recent UPIC request I read included a host of new horrors that may not be available and/or are too cumbersome to send.   Here’s a short recap of some of the new things but remember, they can always ask for more or even go to your office to visit.

  1. Copy of the face sheet. I have never used this term in home health or hospice, but it is basically patient demographics and insurance information.  People who have experience in a hospital are likely familiar with this term.
  2. Copy of Medicare card and state identification card (driver’s license or state ID). The logistics of getting a copy of the Medicare card and state identification card involve too many opportunities for loss and theft that I don’t recommend it even if Medicare wants it.  However, Medicare and other payor sources lose money daily when somebody loans (rents) their Medicare/Medicaid card to someone else.  Some software systems allow you to post a picture of the patient on the face sheet.  DNA and fingerprints are not necessary, but the end of the earth is not too far to go if there are any doubts. 
  3. Authorization of benefits. This is almost universally included in the consent form given to patients.  Take a quick look and ensure that somewhere on the consent it says that the patient or representative authorizes the agency to bill Medicare for services.  It would hurt a lot if this statement was inadvertently omitted when all those changes were made to the form relative to the new Conditions of Participation.
  4. EHR Audit Trails. In most systems, these audit trails are cumbersome to obtain and require someone to print or save the audit trail for each individual document.  In one system, the audit trail can be over 100 pages for a single document.  For a long time, there was a vendor who provided audit trails on request, but the agencies were not able to run them.  If you get a UPIC, consider the burden to your agency and call the person who signed your UPIC letter.  It kind of makes paper charts seem appealing again.
  5. OASIS to include the start of care, the resumption of care certification prior to and after the dates of services noted in this request and the discharge. I’m not entirely sure what this means.  To the best of my knowledge, patients aren’t certified after Resumption of Care unless the patient was in the hospital at the end of the episode and there is no change between the recertification assessment (not mentioned) and the ROC HIPPS code.  If an agency has a reasonable hospitalization rate, this is a rare occurrence.  Plus, there are numerous other bullets in the list that mention OASIS assessments.
  6. Travel Logs. Some agencies don’t have travel logs.  Some don’t pay mileage and others pay a flat ‘trip fee’.  I would think a visit log would be more useful to the UPIC but in the two page request, that wasn’t mentioned.

There are many more entries in the UPIC request but even though the length of the list is daunting, it is repetitive.  Laboratory results are requested on page one and all diagnostic tests are requested on page two.  There are individual entries for all hospital documentation, Inpatient records, Inpatient records to support start of care, inpatient records for hospitalizations during the episode, emergency room visit notes and the history and physical.  The best advice I can give is to be careful when delegating the tasks on the list, so you don’t have multiple employees all printing OASIS assessments.

The good new is that most of you will not find yourself in the undesirable position of being the target of a UPIC. If you are one of the unlucky ones, well, it’s not luck that brought you the unwanted attention from a UPIC.  The data analytics are very sophisticated and there is nothing random about the selection of charts (which makes me wonder why a copy of your Medicare Census is included in the list of documents required from the agency.  They know who your patients are.)

That doesn’t mean that your agency is operating outside of coverage guidelines.  It does mean that cloned notes, poor coding, lack of OASIS skills and care plans that are copied from one episode to the next will be under the spotlight.  This results in paying money back to Medicare and additional scrutiny which may extend to your referring physicians who might then begin referring patients to your competitors because they don’t like attention from Medicare any more than the rest of you do.  I do not like it when care is provided to eligible beneficiaries gets denied because a nurse is a little too eager to show off his or her new cut and paste skills.  It’s not like the agency can recoup their paychecks.

Questions?  Comments?  Do you have any experience with UPICs?  Post your comments below or email us.  We need to know now so we can understand them before they become obsolete.

[i] From Noridian Healthcare Solutions

Walmart Humana Merger


While nurses like us and other clinicians have been worrying about patient care, documentation and the new CoPs, Walmart and Humana have been getting cozy in the back room working out the details of yet another mega-deal.

The idea has an upside. A full 90 percent of Americans live within 15 minutes of a Walmart. That could go a long way to eliminating any access to care problems. Walmart’s drug prices are often less than competitors’ and could possibly be lower if they were the preferred pharmacy for Humana. Folks could see a physician or nurse practitioner, ask that their scripts be electronically sent to the pharmacy to be filled and go shop for everything from an oil filter for their car to Roma tomatoes while they wait- how convenient.

This sounds so good that maybe the good people involved in this potential deal are blind to the downside. Or, maybe they have never been to a Walmart.

Why do you go to Walmart? I go because stuff costs less. I do not expect sales associates to ask if I need help or because they play catchy background music. I dont expect anyone to help me pair cheese and fruit although to be honest, Kraft singles go with just about anything. I go to Walmart because stuff is cheap and in return, I lower my quality expectations. Have you ever compared a Walmart T-shirt to one from The Gap? Gap T-shirt’s make me happy. I would have to be sedated if I found a better T-shirt.

Walmart employees tend to be good people but the retail giant’s recruiting strategy is putting a computer in a conspicuous spot in the store to interview prospective employees. There is rarely just one person answering the questions so they must be hard.  To be fair, Walmart offers mostly entry level positions – starter jobs. I have never worked for Google or Microsoft but I don’t think this is how they filter through countless applicants.

I have to ask myself if this is the approach they will take to hiring the health care professionals that staff the Walmart and Humana clinics. ‘Our Mediocre doctors and nurses are the backbone of our clinic’, their tagline might read. ‘We’ve lowered our standards so you can pay less’. Do you want a mediocre practitioner in a starter job taking care of your child or grandmother?

And if someone has the flu, a standard script (computer generated from Humana’s algorithm) is probably all that’s needed for a patient who will spend the next 45 minutes infecting everyone else in the store. Watch as Walmart clinics go viral. Literally.

When flu season comes to a halt, things get trickier. As a recovering Walmart shopper, I am confident when I say that pretty much every one in the store is a potential patient. Unlike Whole Foods where you may run into your Yoga friends wearing yoga pants, the Walmart shoppers squeezed into a Spandex Lycra blend are not practiced in the art of Ashtanga.

And Walmart goes out of their way to perpetuate an endless supply of patients. Ramen noodles sell for a dime a piece but it is cost prohibitive for low income families of four to eat a meal including boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Red beans and rice, a perfect protein thats easily affordable always has directions to add sausage which enhances the flavor as much as it plumps up those thighs. The cheap high fructose corn syrup disguised as fruit juice costs only a fraction of the price of the real stuff. In the South where Roman Catholic values prevail, grocery bills rise each time a sibling is added and these low prices are appealing even if they kill folks eventually.

What happens if one of the Walmart shoppers/victims with a history of eating on the Walmart plan

falls out in the store? Can you see the utter chaos as the mediocre care practitioners try to read their CPR pocket card and perform chest compressions simultaneously? How many potential patients will remain loyal to Humana after they see a patient die because, after 22 attempts, there were no more IV catheters left in the crash cart and emergency drugs could not be administered.

If this deal goes through, it will be a failure for everyone involved. Humana may save money on drugs but by the end of a year, Blue Cross will emerge as the premiere insurance carrier by default. Physicians and Nurse Practitioners with restricted licenses rendering mediocre care may be an effective cost savings approach but without being surrounded by competent colleagues who can teach them or at least watch their backs, million dollar payouts will become the norm.  After all, there will be a lot of witnesses.

Walmart needs to spend their cash on improving the experience of their employees and Humana might think about increasing the speed of paying claims. And I need to be able to sleep without worrying about receiving Walmart branded healthcare.

But the most important reason to speak out against this deal is because it is nothing more than business – a way to make money.  They could have respected us enough to at least pretend they were aiming to meet needs of the people who made them successful in the first place.

Your thoughts?

%d bloggers like this: