- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 20, 2016

BALTIMORE (AP) - Maryland regulators gave the green light last week to a plan by Garrett Regional Medical Center to train and employ patients who frequently need the hospital’s services.

These patients are ideal candidates, both because they have experience navigating the health care system and because they may lack the economic resources - such as adequate insurance and transportation - to manage their illness, officials say.

Training them to assist in the care of other chronically ill patients helps address both problems, Kendra Thayer, Garrett Regional’s senior vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer, told The Daily Record last month. Officials feel it will help avoid “potentially avoidable utilization,” said Steve Ports, director of the state Health Services Cost Review Commission’s center for engagement and alignment.

Keeping chronically ill patients from needing costly hospital services by helping them manage their illnesses better is a key goal of both the Affordable Care Act and Maryland’s global-budget payment system for hospitals, which places a cap on hospital revenues as an incentive to keep patients healthier.

Reviewers from the commission liked the idea of recruiting patients to help guide others through the system, Ports said.

The commission will allow Garrett Regional to raise $221,485 by increasing its rates over three years, allowing it to hire and train five people to be community health workers, liaisons and other support staff providing outreach in the community.

Garrett Regional has pledged to provide its own funds to match the increase, bringing the total budget for the program to over $442,000.

Garrett Regional’s proposal is one of two being considered by the commission under the Population Health Workforce Support for Disadvantaged Areas Program, created by the panel in December. A group of Baltimore-area medical centers - led by the Johns Hopkins Hospital - had sought permission to raise rates so they could hire more workers from low-income, high-unemployment areas like some Baltimore neighborhoods.

The program - initially envisioned to provide $40 million to support hiring 1,000 workers - was pitched as a way for hospitals to help address some of the economic challenges highlighted by the protesting and riots that followed the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray.

Regulators approved up to $10 million to be raised through hospital rate increases to support these projects.

Besides Garrett’s project, the other proposal, submitted by a coalition of nine hospitals from the Johns Hopkins, MedStar, LifeBridge and University of Maryland health systems, is requesting the remaining $9.78 million to provide initial training to 578 people, about 120 of whom would ultimately become permanent employees working as community health workers, outreach specialists and nursing assistants.

That proposal is still under review by the commission.

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Information from: The Daily Record of Baltimore, https://www.thedailyrecord.com

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