By Teresa Paul

Kathy Sgro, founder and owner of Alterna-Care Home Health System (319 E. Madison Street, Suite 3L in Springfield), has developed a hospital prevention program, HOSPREVENT, which is now in its 10th year. The system uses a TeleHealth monitor which at-home patients use to take their own vital signs on a daily basis.

“We can receive the patient’s daily vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, weight, oxygen level in their blood and glucose level,” said Kathy’s son, Joseph Sgro, Alterna-Care’s Chief Development Officer. “Alterna-Care can receive this information on a daily basis by having the TeleHealth monitor with them in their home.”

“When looking at the Affordable Care Act, we are looking at how we pay for health care and are paying based on performance,” said Kathy, a registered nurse with a doctorate in nursing practice. “Under the Affordable Care Act we do not want to pay for poor health care,” she continued. “Under the pay-for-performance system, you get rewarded for good outcomes. Poor outcomes will be penalized.”

Kathy said the Affordable Care Act could mean a cost savings to the program. “They realize that rewarding good post-acute care providers will help save Medicare dollars. Under the Affordable Care Act, people are looking at hospitals, nursing homes and post-acute providers to help them reduce repeat hospitalizations.”

Alterna-Care has utilized HOSPREVENT since 2004 and has developed a model of home health services that focus on reducing repeat hospitalizations, which typically impact most on diabetic, cardiac and mental health patients.

“In response to the Affordable Care Act mandate, our model of care consists of the nurse meeting with a specialty physician monthly in reviewing those patients’ treatment protocol,” said Kathy. “The specialty physician makes recommendations on changing their medications, their diet and other treatment regimens.”

By using the HOSPREVENT program, Alterna-Care has reduced repeat hospitalizations for their patients by 50 percent. Part of their model includes the use of the mobile TeleHealth units provided to patients, which allow for direct communication of vital information to health care facilities.

Alterna-Care purchased their TeleHealth units in 2004. The units are made by Honeywell and are called the Honeywell HomMed Health Monitoring System™. TeleHealth units have been available to health care providers since the mid-1990s and the system has improved over time.

“The entire AlternaCare program was developed by Kathy Sgro and has been extremely successful,” Joe Sgro said. “The program has been written about in several nursing magazines. She has trained others all over the country. She has written a chapter in a nursing textbook about the program.”

“Anyone can get the technology,” Kathy Sgro said. “That is just one piece of the whole program.”

“We receive daily vital signs information about the patient so we can respond when there is a change in the patient’s condition,” Kathy continued. “Whereas before we had TeleHealth, we would show up at a visit and find out the patient is going into congestive heart failure. It may be too late at that point and we have to send the patient to the hospital.”

“Now we can find out the day there is a change in their condition and we can respond immediately,” Joe said. “That is what is keeping our patients out of the hospital.”

When a patient does go to the hospital, family inconvenience and costs are an issue. “When a family goes to the emergency room at the hospital, the family has to take off work,” Kathy said. “Once you get into the system, the hospital starts running all kinds of tests, chest x-rays, blood tests and urine tests.” The costs only mount from there but AlternaCare is helping. “We had patient surveys when we first used the monitors,” said Kathy. “We had only positive feedback from the patients.”

“The other advantage to the TeleHealth monitor is the peace of mind for the family – the children who may not be living with Mom and Dad,” said Joe Sgro. “All the information we receive from the monitors is compiled in a printout which we fax or email to the primary care physicians. Doctors are happy with the program.”

Christine Jimerson, daughter of  TeleHealth patient Dolly Jimerson, both of Springfield, said the monitoring system has given her and her mother peace of mind. The Jimersons have been using the HOSPREVENT system for almost a year.

“My mother’s weight tends to go up and down,” Jimerson said. “Whenever my mother’s weight goes up, the nurse will call the heart clinic and tell the clinic what is going on with my mother’s health. If her blood pressure is going up, the nurse will call and ask my mother questions to see what is happening,” Jimerson said. “I like that about Alterna-Care.”

Jimerson explained an incident where her mother had a blood pressure reading of over 200. “Had it not been for the monitor, we would have not known to get my mother to the hospital,” Jimerson said. “The monitor system has been very helpful. Alterna-Care has a great group of nurses and are very caring people and they have a very good device,” Jimerson said.

Teresa Paul is a personal lines account manager in the Taylorville office for Dansig Insurance. She can be reached at 217-565-9535 or teresadawn1970@yahoo.com.