About Long Term Care

What Is Long Term Care?

When a person requires someone else to help him with his physical or emotional needs over an extended period of time, this is long-term care. This help may be required for many of the activities or needs that healthy, active people take for granted and may include such things as:

  • Walking
  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Using the bathroom
  • Helping with incontinence
  • Managing Pain
  • Preventing unsafe behavior
  • Preventing wandering
  • Providing comfort and assurance
  • Providing physical or occupational therapy
  • Attending to medical needs
  • Counseling
  • Feeding
  • Answering the phone
  • Meeting doctors’ appointments
  • Providing meals
  • Maintaining the household
  • Shopping and running errands
  • Providing transportation
  • Administering medications
  • Managing money
  • Paying bills
  • Doing the laundry
  • Attending to personal hygiene
  • Helping with personal grooming
  • Writing letters or notes
  • Making repairs to the home
  • Maintaining a yard
  • Removing snow

The need for long-term care help might be due to a terminal condition, disability, illness, injury or the infirmity of old age. Estimates by experts are that at least 60% of all individuals will need extended help in one or more of the areas above during their lifetime. The need for long-term care may only last for a few weeks or months or it may go on for years. It all depends on the underlying reasons for needing care.

Temporary long term care (need for care for only weeks or months)

  • Rehabilitation from a hospital stay
  • Recovery from illness
  • Recovery from injury
  • Recovery from surgery
  • Terminal medical condition

Ongoing long term care (need for care for many months or years)

  • Chronic medical conditions
  • Chronic severe pain
  • Permanent disabilities
  • Dementia
  • Ongoing need for help with activities of daily living
  • Need for supervision

Long-term care services may be provided in any of the following settings:

Custodial Care versus Skilled Care

Custodial care and skilled care are terms used by the medical community and health care plans such as health insurance plans, Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Administration. They are used primarily to differentiate care provided by medical specialists as opposed to care provided by aides, volunteers, family or friends. The use of these terms and their application is important in determining whether a health care plan will pay for services or not. Generally, skilled services are paid for by a health care plan and custodial services, not in conjunction with skilled care, are not covered. However, custodial services are almost always a part of a skilled service plan of care and by being included, custodial services are paid by the health care plan as well. Many people have the misconception that only skilled services are covered. This is simply not true.

According to the American College of Medical Quality:

” Skilled care is the provision of services and supplies that can be given only by or under the supervision of skilled or licensed medical personnel. Skilled care is medically necessary when provided to improve the quality of health care of patients or to maintain or slow the decompensation of a patient’s condition, including palliative treatment. Skilled care is prescribed for settings that have the capability to deliver such services safely and effectively.

Custodial care is the provision of services and supplies that can be given safely and reasonably by individuals who are neither skilled nor licensed medical personnel. The medical necessity and desired results of skilled care must be clearly documented by a written treatment plan approved by a physician. A patient may have skilled and custodial needs at the same time. In these circumstances, only those services and supplies provided in connection with the skilled care are to be considered as such. The treatment plan must include:

•  The applied therapies;
•  The frequency of the treatment which is consistent with the therapeutic goals;
•  The potential for a patient’s restoration within a predictable period of time, if applicable;
•  The time frame in which the prescribing physician will review the case for the purpose of evaluating a patient’s status and before reassessing the medical necessity of ongoing treatment; or
•  The maintenance, palliative relief, or the slowing of decompensation in a patient’s status, if applicable.

Determinations of the medical necessity of skilled care must be based on the applicable standard of care.”

Writers and advisers who are not part of the medical community often confuse custodial care and skilled care with specific care activities. For example help with the activities of daily living and many of the items on the list in the previous section are care activities thought to be by definition custodial care. Whereas the monitoring of vital signs, ordering medical tests, diagnosing medical problems, administering of intravenous injections, prescribing and dispensing medicine, drawing blood, giving shots, dressing wounds, providing therapy and counseling are all activities normally associated with skilled care. But many non-medical advisers and writers don’t know that skilled and custodial refer to the people who deliver the care not the actual care given.

A skilled care provider can also provide services normally thought to be provided by custodial caregivers. Such things as help with activities of daily living and so-called instrumental activities of daily living are often furnished by skilled providers in the course of their treatment. Or a skilled care plan may call for services that can be delivered by a custodial caregiver but it would still be under the skilled plan of care for that individual. On the other hand people who deliver custodial services may from time to time perform those activities supposedly reserved for skilled providers. Such things as taking blood pressure, administering medicines, giving shots or changing wounds might be provided under certain circumstances by a custodial provider.

Please remember that the terms skilled and custodial do not refer to specific types of long-term care services but rather who delivers those services. Also the delivery of skilled services must be done under a written plan of care which often includes custodial care services.

Does Medicare Cover Custodial Care?
Of course it does. Medicare routinely pays for custodial care in every skilled care setting for which it provides payment. Medicare will not pay for custodial care in the absence of a skilled care plan.

Medicare covered nursing home stay
A patient receiving skilled care in a nursing home from Medicare not only receives care from skilled providers such as nurses, therapists or doctors but also receives care from custodial providers such as aides or CNA’s. This care usually consists of help with bathing, dressing, ambulating , toileting, incontinence, feeding and medicating. Medicare does not exclude the custodial services but pays the entire bill because custodial care is a necessary part of the skilled care plan in a nursing home.

Medicare covered home care
Custodial care is always a part of a skilled care plan for home care. The patient receives skilled care from a nurse or therapist and custodial care from an aide for help with bathing, dressing, ambulating , toileting, incontinence, medicating and possibly feeding. Medicare pays for both types of services.

Medicare hospice care
The hospice team consists of a doctor, a nurse, a social worker, a therapist when needed, a counselor and an aide to provide custodial care. Help with activities of daily living is provided at home or in a Medicare approved hospice facility. Custodial care is always a part of a hospice plan of care and Medicare routinely pays for these services.

Please note that there is no such thing as a custodial nursing home.  All nursing homes are by definition skilled care facilities because they have nurses who are skilled care providers.  Also be aware that not all states license intermediate care facilities which might provide less than 24 hour registered nursing care. “Skilled care patients” in nursing homes are referred to as such because they are receiving payment from Medicare or sometimes payment from private health insurance plans.  Practically all nursing home residents have medical needs but Medicare and other insurance plans will only pay for patients that have certain acute medical needs where recovery is anticipated.  Patients with chronic medical problems are typically not covered by Medicare but would be covered by Medicaid.

The confusion with understanding the term “skilled nursing care” probably comes from Medicare itself. To be a certified Medicare nursing home and receive payments from Medicare a nursing home must meet the Medicare definition of a “skilled nursing facility”. This means there must be registered nurses on duty 24 hours a day, there must be a doctor on call at all times and there must be ambulance service to a local hospital. Medicare may also require additional staffing and facility arrangements to receive certification. It is unfortunate that the word “skilled” is used in this definition. All nursing homes whether they meet the definition of a “skilled nursing facility” or not provide services from a nurse, doctor or therapist and this meets the medical definition of skilled care. Many states have adopted the same federal criteria for licensing their nursing homes. In some states the “skilled” definition is the only option for a nursing home. But in some states facilities with lesser services can receive different licensing classes. These might be called intermediate care facilities or “small nursing homes”.

by Thomas Day; courtesy of NCPC

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