Kristine Bostek | Special to the MetroWest Daily News
No one has sacrificed more for our country than veterans. Yet for years, Veterans Administration Medical Centers have been plagued by challenges. COVID-19 and the Afghan war — our longest ever — have put new strains on the VA. Policymakers in Washington are working hard to keep pace with demand for veterans services by building new facilities.
To be sure, adding new infrastructure is a welcome and important part of the strategy to improve health care services to veterans. Another is employing innovative care models that have been proven to work in the private health care market and can be married to the existing VA system.
One of these care models is the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), which is offered throughout Massachusetts under several different names, including Fallon Health’s Summit ElderCare.
PACE programs use an interdisciplinary team approach to keep older Americans with complex, chronic conditions safe and healthy while living independently in their own homes. PACE enrollees typically receive care at home and in a PACE center. Such care can include primary care, therapies, meals, socialization, medication management, transportation and any other care or service needed to maintain the highest level of functioning.
Ninety-five percent of enrollees are able to live in the community, outside a nursing home, with the support of PACE. And studies show that PACE and programs like it result in improved outcomes.
A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that PACE members “are significantly less likely to be hospitalized, to visit the ED (emergency department) or be institutionalized.”
In Massachusetts, a study of a similar care model, Senior Care Options (SCO), found a “beneficial impact on enrollees in both NF (nursing facility) residency and risk of death.”
During the pandemic, PACE programs demonstrated the strength of their person-centered model of care by keeping enrollees safe at home. The rates of COVID-19 infection and death among PACE enrollees were one-third of those incurred by nursing home residents.
Congress is working on legislation that would marry PACE programs and VA Medical Centers. It is called the “Elizabeth Dole Home and Community Based Services for Veterans and Caregivers Act,” named for the former senator whose late husband, Bob Dole, was also a U.S. senator and a wounded hero in World War II.
Specifically, it would establish partnerships between PACE and VA Medical Centers that are within the service area of a PACE program.
“Age, combined with their unique health needs, makes many elderly veterans especially vulnerable to going into nursing homes and institutional care,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley, Chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, who introduced the Dole bill. “Our nation’s veterans deserve the right to age comfortably and with dignity in their homes. The research is clear: providing health services and assistance in home settings improves health outcomes and delays, if not prevents, nursing home placement for people with disabilities and the elderly. However, VA’s current programs need to be improved and expanded to ensure that all veterans have access to these types of services.”
Given the hardships they’ve endured for the rest of the country, veterans deserve access to the most innovative and successful health care strategies we have. We urge Congress to pass the Dole bill.
Kristine Bostek is president of the board of the MassPACE Association and senior vice president of PACE Programs at Fallon Health.
This story was originally published by MetroWest Daily News on August 11, 2022.