Panhandle Health halts home health services

For more than 55 years, the Panhandle Health District has offered its Home Care Program to provide individualized care for people recovering at home from surgery or other medical conditions that no longer require hospitalization.

On Thursday, the health district announced it was phasing out that program and no longer accepting new patients.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision for the health district to make,” Panhandle Health District Director Don Duffy said in a news release. “Unfortunately, due to staffing shortages, particularly among medical workers, we can no longer continue the program. PHD’s other 40 programs remain active and growing.”

The program has suffered from staffing shortages and underfunding, while its employees have taken on some of the most difficult and remote patient care situations in the district, Duffy said.

“We have maintained the program for as long as possible thanks to the dedication and compassion of our staff,” he said.

Home Health, which includes skilled nursing as well as physical, occupational and speech therapy, provides care for approximately 100 patients each week with an average of five new admissions per week across the health district.

In 2021, 131 Home Health clients were seen in Kootenai County, with a similar number this year.

“We are reaching out to our customers, providers, other home health care agencies and referral agencies to let them know about the closure of our home health program,” said Katherine Hoyer, communications manager for Panhandle Health. “We will work with our clients and partners to transfer all of our clients to other agencies. Individuals seeking home health care should contact their provider to be referred to a home health care agency in their area. “

The eight-person home health staff will be laid off in September once Panhandle completes client care and transfers patients to other home care providers, Hoyer said.

As part of their duties, these staff members traveled to the most remote areas of the district to attend to people, even hiking when customers were snowed in or traveling to areas without cell service, without electricity and without running water.

Patients could use insurance, including Medicare, to receive these services. Hoyer said the loss of the program will have no financial impact on the district.

“This decision was not taken lightly,” she said. “Our home care team has put their all into the program. We thank them for their dedication and service to the community.”

About Evelyn C. Heim

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