April 08, 2021 at 12:39AM

The concept of home healthcare has had an inconsistent journey since the doctor house calls of 50 years ago. For example, according to the National Association for Home Care (NAHC), in the mid-80s, home care providers were down to a total of 5,900 across the nation, while later in the decade, thanks to a lawsuit the group participated in, they grew to over 10,000. In 2001, they were back down again to 6,861, and didn’t rebound to 10,581 until the end of 2009. Yet, since 2015, according to Home Health Care News, the home health subsector has contracted by more than 8 percent, with nearly 1,000 agencies exiting the market.

The recent pandemic, however, may just be enough fuel to get the fires of home healthcare burning strong once and for all.

For starters, it has allowed relative newcomers to thrive. As PYMNTS reported recently, home-health provider DispatchHealth recently raised $200 million in Series D funding, and is now opening in a new market every three to four weeks. The company provides complete critical care and monitoring delivered to patients’ homes. Its success is due in part to its partnership with Medicare and Medicaid, which not only allows the company to remain profitable, but also keeps costs down for customers.

On Tuesday (April 6), Vesta Healthcare announced that it had raised $65 million to develop its home health platform. Vesta is a bit different from DispatchHealth in that it focuses on those with serious illnesses and works with a team of caregivers to allow patients to remain at home instead of in a hospital or nursing home. It also employs technology for at-home monitoring to keep patients safe and alert their care team to any emergencies. According to the company, its program has shown that 88 percent of urgent alerts can be resolved with the patient in their own home, resulting in a 30 percent reduction in emergency room visits and hospital admissions.

“As the U.S. population ages and more care moves into the home, Vesta is demonstrating the impact of a technology-enabled care model that both responds to the unique needs of each member and also integrates their surrounding home support system,” said Parag Shah, founding managing director and CEO at K2 Health Ventures, one of the firms invested in Vesta. “This investment follows our commitment to supporting innovative management teams that are driven to dramatically improve the lives of patients.”

Of course, while there has been a decided bump to smaller players in the home health field, it can’t be forgotten that there are a few major players, too – including Amazon. Earlier in the month, the heavy-hitter announced that it was expanding Amazon Care nationwide later this year. That service, which is already available to all Amazon employees, will provide a mix of virtual and in-person care to tend to people in their own homes. According to a company press release, the service seems to be more geared to employers seeking to offer it to employees, rather than to individuals.

Another major player in the field – and the one that can truly affect lasting change in the industry – is the U.S. government. At the end of last month, the Biden administration announced that it was earmarking $400 billion for home- and community-based services (HCBS) to help boost the often meager wages of home-based care providers. While the earmark is just a proposal under the larger $2 trillion infrastructure plan, members of the industry praised the move to assign home healthcare a status similar to roads and bridges. The future of the plan is uncertain at this point and sure to meet with significant Republican resistance, but it seems clear that some kind of increase to home healthcare will be coming.

“This effort deserves the complete support of the Congress and the American public,” William A. Dombi, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC), told Home Health Care News. “It is time we honor our parents and grandparents with the opportunity to age in place and to provide full access to the least restrictive healthcare environment for persons with disabilities. The benefits of home care are long-established.”

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