St. Joseph dedicates 26-bed subacute-care unit Patients can finish hospital recovery in 'homelike' atmosphere

February 06, 1996|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

St. Joseph Medical Center yesterday dedicated a new 26-bed "transitional care unit" as part of a broad effort by Maryland hospitals to move into subacute care.

St. Joseph was one of nine Maryland hospitals licensed by health planners for the new level of care in an experiment mandated by the 1995 session of the legislature.

In addition to those nine, eight others also had subacute services approved in the last half of 1995, and three hospitals had been offering such services before the latest rush.

Subacute care is a less intensive -- and less expensive -- level than inpatient hospital care, but it is more intensive than normal nursing home services. It is aimed at recovering hospital patients who are not yet well enough to go home.

The new St. Joseph unit, although it is contained in the hospital, will strive for a more "homelike" atmosphere, in which patients wear regular clothes instead of hospital gowns.

Nursing homes led the way in providing subacute care. But hospitals have been expanding into such services in the last few years, heating up a battle with the nursing homes for market share, according to Barbara Manard, vice president of Lewin-VHI, a Virginia consulting firm, who recently completed a major national study on subacute care.

The new St. Joseph unit, which will begin receiving patients next week, is on the seventh floor of the hospital.

A pediatric outpatient center has been relocated to make room for the unit.

But, unlike some other hospitals, St. Joseph did not close acute care beds to make room for subacute services.

Officials expect that most of their transitional care patients will be St. Joseph patients who need some care and rehabilitation before they leave the hospital, said spokeswoman Sharon Sopp.

Some patients may also come from other hospitals. On average, they are expected to stay about a week, then return home -- not to a nursing home.

That may allow for shorter stays in hospital acute units, Ms. Sopp said.

She said rates for the transitional unit have not yet received final approval, but they will be lower than acute care rates.

The legislature approved the experiment in hospital-based subacute care after the hospitals complained they were at a competitive disadvantage with nursing homes.

Nancy Fiedler, senior vice president of the Maryland Hospital Association, said the hospitals' goal is "to have the flexibility" to offer subacute services, "particularly as we seek to reduce the number of acute care beds."

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