Supporting America's Aging Population with a Senior Healthcare Strategy
By 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 years old or older. Approximately 10,000 people turn 65 each day. The aging baby boom generation may result in a more than 50-percent increase in the number of Americans receiving nursing home care, from 1.2 million in 2017 to approximately 1.9 million in 2030. Proactively addressing the needs of older Americans, especially those related to healthcare, requires thoughtful and specific strategies as the demand for care services grows.
The aging population’s healthcare, long-term service and support needs vary from the rest of the population. Compounding the differences, seniors typically experience multiple chronic health issues as they age. With adults over 65, an estimated 90 percent face one or more long-term medical conditions, such as arthritis, depression, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. When surveyed about the future, almost two-thirds of senior respondents (64%) report being very or somewhat worried about their physical health.
An increase in older Americans will strain the healthcare system and impact overall costs. At the current rate, Social Security now pays out more than it takes in, meaning funds may be insufficient to pay out benefits by the middle to late 2030s. Creating and implementing a senior strategy will prove crucial to healthcare providers trying to adapt to the impending demand for healthcare and rising costs.
Partnering to Provide Optimal Senior Services
The current healthcare system involves a wide variety of entities providing services to patients along the care continuum. Historically, providers delivered care and passed the patient on to the next step in the process; for example, a specialist, skilled nursing facility or home health care as a few of the many possible stops along the continuum, reinforcing a siloed approach to care. Seniors will likely interact with multiple providers, and require a concerted coordination of care to ensure better outcomes.
“The biggest element of our strategy is the concept of partnership,” says Glen Roebuck, Executive Director of Home, Outpatient and Senior Services for Genesis Health System, based in the Quad Cities region of Iowa and Illinois. “We partner with the patient and family to identify needs and desired outcomes.
“Moreover, we partner with many other providers in the area who provide services we do not provide, and this has been a key factor in building relationships across the continuum of care and services for older adults,” he says.
Roebuck stresses the importance of not being viewed as the competitor or the heavy-handed health system, but as a care partner for mutual patients in the community. And while a senior patient remains the key stakeholder in the process, he emphasizes that Genesis strives to also provide value for providers, partners, and the overall health of the community.
Genesis initiated a senior services strategy approximately eight years ago. “My role was to improve current operations and provide a framework of broader services for older adults,” Roebuck says. “We developed and deployed a team of nurse practitioners to area skilled nursing facilities and reduced readmission rates by 50 percent. We initiated a coalition of area skilled nursing providers, bringing them together to discuss common challenges and opportunities to improve the quality of care in our community.”
Sean Mullins, Chief Operating Officer at Olio, a software solution company that makes it simple for population health teams and post-acute provider networks to actively collaborate on each patient’s care, believes the recent shift to health systems and insurance payer entities developing senior strategies happened for a couple of main reasons.
“Based on need and opportunity, the care conversations are going to be different for seniors, and senior-focused strategies are becoming very popular,” Mullins says. “That’s why we focus on helping these different entities stay connected to the patient’s care across the care continuum.”
Mullins believes senior strategies begin with acknowledging the demand, and appreciating the differences in the types of services required for this population. “Patients appreciate walking into an organization that thinks about where you are in life and takes into consideration your specific needs,” he says. “We need to figure out the best way to support the patient along their healthcare journey.”
Evolving Efforts to Meet Senior Healthcare Needs
As healthcare remains a major focus, not just for seniors but for all ages of the U.S. population, organizations must adapt and respond to the demands of the market, consumers and the current health environment.
“The pandemic underscored the need to be agile and find new innovative solutions,” Roebuck says. “We added remote virtual care visits to enhance safety, and recently we interviewed a concierge service for potential inclusion in our senior services partnership to fill gaps not offered by existing partners.”
At Genesis, each at-risk discharge gets assigned one person responsible for continuous follow up with the patient to ensure a more thorough transition of care. Establishing relationships with post-acute providers with a focus on continuity of care has reduced hospital readmissions and E.R. visits by recently discharged patients, according to Roebuck.
“We have developed preferred provider relationships with specific skilled nursing facilities in our area,” Roebuck says. “With most of our discharges going to these facilities, where we have also deployed nurse practitioners and a gerontologist as an attending physician, continuity of care is much more hardwired, and readmissions and emergency department utilization are also down.”
When looking at how to evolve a senior strategy, Mullins explains Olio believes in a holistic approach to ensure older patients receive all of the assistance they need after leaving the hospital.
“We're focusing on expanding into the different sites of care,” he says. “A patient may come out of a hospital and go to a skilled nursing facility or at-home healthcare. Then, they probably get outpatient therapy and community-based services like meal services and house cleaning. We think all of these things are really part of a broader senior strategy.”
Genesis Health System, recognizing the need for wide-reaching and coordinated senior services, has shifted its focus from skilled nursing to senior living, building new comprehensive senior communities and adding assisted living to existing campuses. Genesis partnered with WesleyLife creating a joint venture called WellSpire, to manage previous Genesis assets and add senior living services in the Quad Cities.
“Our post-acute strategy continues to evolve as needs change,” Roebuck says. “Our ability to forecast needs and adapt to change has never been more important than it is today.”