UnityPoint Health, Henry Ford Health System expand SNF- and hospital-at-home care services with new partnerships

Two health systems announced new tech vendor partnerships this week aimed at ramping up their ability to extend skilled and high-acuity care to patients’ homes.

The first, announced Wednesday, is a collaboration between UnityPoint at Home, a subsidiary of Des Moines, Iowa-based UnityPoint Health, and WellSky, a healthcare and community care coordination technology company.

That deal will enable UnityPoint at Home to expand its skilled-nursing-facility-at-home program with the support of WellSky’s platform and network of more than 4,000 personal care agencies.

The other, announced Thursday, will see Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System build and launch hospital-at-home, SNF-at-home and palliative-care-at-home programs for its communities alongside Contessa, a provider of home recovery care services and a subsidiary of Amedisys.

The announcements from both health systems highlighted the decreased costs, stronger outcomes and more comfortable patient experiences tech-enabled home care programs can deliver.

The systems and their new partners also underscored the timeliness of these offerings, which can help pandemic-stricken hospitals manage capacity levels by delivering comparable services beyond their campuses.

RELATED: Amedisys snaps up hospital-at-home provider Contessa Health in $250M deal

“Though we began to see a shift to home-based care before COVID-19, the pandemic inarguably accelerated the movement,” WellSky CEO Bill Miller told Fierce Healthcare in an emailed statement.

“SNF-at-home models will continue to gain traction as critical investments are made, including an unprecedented number of dollars coming into the system from the U.S. government that are designed to move care into the home. This investment, coupled with the economic advantages of better quality and lower costs, can elevate outcomes for people and enable them to age with dignity and age in place,” he said.

UnityPoint at Home already provides home health, hospice, infusion therapy, rehabilitation and home medical equipment services to patients across Iowa and Illinois, according to its announcement.

The group said it has seen success with a hospital-at-home model first implemented in 2018, which decreased 30-day emergency department visit escalation from 27% to 6% and saved $904,000 in emergency department and hospitalization costs.

Now, with centralized coordination of in-home clinical care, home medical equipment and telehealth, UnityPoint and WellSky say the SNF-at-home program will be able to “fill the caregiver gap” and help eligible patients with their activities of daily living.

“For UnityPoint at Home, launching an SNF-at-Home program was a clear next step after seeing the success and impressive outcomes of our hospital-at-home program,” Mag VanOosten, president and chief clinical officer of UnityPoint at Home, told Fierce Healthcare in an emailed statement. “Our goal is always to provide the right level of care in the right setting, and we know for many people that setting is in the home. This is just one additional way we can deliver great care to patients in need and we anticipate that the demand will continue to grow.”

The partners will first introduce the SNF-at-home program to UnityPoint patients covered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ accountable care organization models, according to the announcement. They plan to expand support to other payers and patient populations “in the future.”

Henry Ford is similarly eager to capitalize on the reported success of Contessa’s home care model. According to the announcement, Contessa’s approach reduces readmission rates by 44%, decreases mean hospital stay length by 35% and has a patient satisfaction score exceeding 90%.

RELATED: Mayo Clinic, Kaiser Permanente to scale up hospital-at-home efforts with $100M investment into Medically Home

The partners plan to offer a hospital-at-home program for patients with several types of acute care conditions who choose to receive care virtually or in person rather than at the hospital.

The SNF-at-home offering will be made available to those who would qualify for rehabilitation and other care at a standard SNF, while the palliative-care-at-home program will combine care services with social support services and 24-hour at-home physical, emotional and spiritual support.

All three programs are scheduled to go live at Henry Ford Hospital in December and will expand to the system’s other hospitals down the line.

“There has never been a more important time for us to partner with our patients and members along their entire healthcare journey and to give them the choices they want and need,” said Wright Lassiter III, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System. “We are excited to partner with Contessa for this opportunity to build on our strong foundation of home health care and further integrate the care and coverage we provide to improve the experience and the outcomes our customers deserve.”

The at-home acute care space received a shot in the arm during the COVID-19 pandemic when regulators loosened restrictions around telehealth and other home treatment models.

The result has been a spate of partnerships and program launches among healthcare provider organizations.

In May, for instance, Mayo Clinic and Kaiser Permanente announced a $100 million investment into and new deployments of Medically Home’s tech-driven home care delivery model. It wasn’t too long after that AdventHealth expanded its existing collaboration with DispatchHealth, another player in the market.

Alongside growing their businesses throughout the pandemic, WellSky and Contessa have also been at the heart of some recent merger and acquisition activity.

The former announced in August that it would be acquiring Healthify, a startup that connects providers with community-based social services organizations, to scale up its social determinants of health initiatives. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

A couple months prior, Contessa was acquired in a $250 million deal by home health, hospice and personal care company Amedisys, which said at the time that the platform would allow the company to expand its capabilities and differentiate itself in the national home care market.