Relationships are the Key to LTACH Success

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By Wayne Boutwell

Building relationships within your community is more important than ever for community hospitals, and the same holds true for long term acute care hospitals (LTACHs). In fact, relationship-building and education are the mainstays of success for ContinueCARE Hospital at Palmetto Health Baptist in Columbia, S.C. A similar approach is beneficial for LTACHs across the country.

Host-Hospital Relationship

The host-hospital relationship is of primary importance for any LTACH. Because ContinueCARE Hospital at Palmetto Health Baptist is a separate, fully licensed acute care hospital within Prisma Health Baptist Hospitals, we work together to forge a strong relationship and establish shared clinical and financial goals. This is key because an LTACH relies on and pays for many hospital services from the host organization. That way both institutions benefit from working together to implement efficient processes. Well-managed LTACHs provide operational benefits for host hospitals, including helping with patient throughput. 

In the face of COVID-19, LTACHs are filling an elevated need for many acute care hospitals. An LTACH can admit critically ill patients in order to increase the number of available ICU beds for the host hospital and other referring hospitals.

The current pandemic has underlined the important role LTACHs play, but these hospitals are always a critical component in the continuum of care. By serving medically complex patients who require an extended hospital stay and highly specialized care, LTACHs fill a niche to treat conditions beyond the scope of a short-term acute care hospital or post-acute setting. Referring appropriate patients to an LTACH can result in lower healthcare costs and improved patient care and outcomes. The vital role of LTACHs is not universally understood or appreciated, though. That’s why educating referral sources as well as the general public is so important for an LTACH to succeed.

Referral Relationships

The LTACH leadership team must work collaboratively on referral development because successful LTACHs receive patient referrals from multiple sources. It’s especially important to connect with referring physicians and case workers in the community.

Education is an important aspect of the referral development process, especially for LTACHs located within host hospitals. It’s important to position the LTACH as a separate referral hospital to clear up any misconceptions that the LTACH is simply another unit within the host facility.

To strengthen referral sources, LTACHs must also educate about their important role in the continuum of care and share metrics to demonstrate success. Statistics to share include patient satisfaction scores and patient care quality metrics such as rates of catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI) and hospital-acquired pressure injuries (HAPI). Other helpful information to share includes special programs   designed to promote patient recovery such as mobility programs, ventilation weaning and wound care, all of which are fundamental LTACH strengths.  Patient success stories can also demonstrate overall facility success and it is always a good idea to have some to share.

Patient and Caregiver Relationships 

At ContinueCARE, relationships aren’t just about building business but improving patient care and improving patient outcomes. The interdisciplinary team meets regularly to develop, review and update each patient’s individualized care plan. Multidisciplinary rounds, another LTACH best practice, is an excellent way to  include families in the process. Since LTACH patients have a longer length of stay, the staff gets to know patients and families. This aids in developing a strong patient-caregiver relationship and these are the relationships that matter most. They are a key benefit LTACHs provide, and they are key to success. 

Community Relationship  

LTACHs are often smaller than their short term acute care partners but smaller should not mean that the LTACH is not involved in the community. Many patients and family members are unaware of what an LTACH is until they need one. As LTACHs strive to fulfill missions similar to their short-term acute-care colleagues, it is important to work to develop a good reputation in the community.  Participating in local community events, such as the Heart Walk or Relay for Life or even supporting the local food bank are all good opportunities for the LTACH to grow a relationship with its community.

There are many relationships to consider and each one is important. Whether a rural hospital or an LTACH, hospitals do well to make sure each relationship gets the attention it needs to help the hospital achieve its mission and goals. 

Wayne Boutwell is CEO, ContinueCARE Hospital at Palmetto Health Baptist in Columbia , S.C.

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