Missouri picking up pace of evaluating patients post-SynCare

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 | 7:57 p.m. CDT; updated 9:20 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, November 1, 2011

COLUMBIA — Since the state took over for SynCare in September, patients needing in-home care have begun to be evaluated more quickly. The change is welcomed by many, but some are still waiting for a visit from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Indiana-based SynCare withdrew from its contract with the state on Sept. 1 following complaints and protests from caregiver organizations about delayed responses to patients requiring in-home care, the Associated Press reported. The state fired SynCare on Aug. 31 for "failure to perform contractual duties," department Communications Director Jacqueline Lapine said.

"Our priority is to ensure that the roughly 55,000 Missourians who are eligible for home and community-based services receive them in a timely and accurate manner," Lapine said.

The SynCare employees serving Missouri are no longer with the company, Lapine said. The department plans to hire 19 new assessors.

Columbia resident Marcellus Walker, 49, is one of those patients still waiting for a department representative to perform evaluation.

Living alone is difficult for Walker because he has multiple disabilities, but he is determined to live independently.

“It took me a lifetime of struggle to get my life manageable,” he said.

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and high blood pressure, Walker isn’t able to do much around his apartment.

“I hurt real, real bad,” he said. “My legs are like noodles.”

Walker called SynCare to schedule an evaluation back in July but never received an assessment. In fact, he never heard back from the company at all.

“It’s really frustrating at this point trying to figure it all out,” Walker said.

If he is assigned a caregiver from an in-home care provider, Walker would receive help with cooking, cleaning, laundry, administering medication and getting to appointments with three different doctors.

“There’s times when I can’t walk, when I can’t make myself something to eat,” he said.

Since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2009, Walker has used a wheelchair. He needs to take nine different pills daily.

“I would like to see a good provider come in,” Walker said. “I would like to see a person help me.”

While waiting to obtain an evaluation, his sister, Alicia Jackson, 50, is caring for him, but she is unable stay with him full time because of her job as a babysitter.

“It’s been hard for her,” he said of his sister.

State contract dissolves

Last February, the state of Missouri awarded SynCare a $5.5 million contract to perform in-home assessments for patients needing care, according to a press release on SynCare’s website.

On the website for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, SynCare was said to be responsible for collecting referrals, conducting nursing facility assessments and authorizing in-home care.

SynCare began performing evaluations in May for Missouri's 55,000 Medicaid patients needing in-home care but was overwhelmed by calls, with hold times of more than an hour, Lapine said.

Since taking over for SynCare, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has evaluated and finalized a daily average of 217 patient cases. Under SynCare, that average was 107, Lapine said.

Services for Independent Living, a caregiver organization in Columbia that services seven counties in mid-Missouri, was involved in calling for the state to terminate its contract with SynCare.

“It seems like the main purpose was to save money,” SIL Executive Director Aimee Wehmeier said about the contract.

Caregiver organizations such as SIL regularly meet with officials from the Department of Health and Senior Service every two weeks to discuss the status of cases and issues needing to be resolved, Wehmeier said. Although the backlog of calls and cases has been reduced since the department has taken over, more work needs to be done to assist patients.

"It's not where we would like it, but it's progress," Wehmeier said.

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