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What is the Role of Long-Term Acute Care Hospitals in the Care Continuum?

By , VP Clinical Services Post-Acute Services October 12, 2021 Financial Performance, Operational Improvement, LTACH

In 2018, the average length of stay (ALOS) at community hospitals had trended down to approximately 5.5 days. In 2020, however, the trend reversed as COVID-19 patients required an average of 9.5 days in the hospital. (Source

This changing patient base highlighted the need for additional intensive care  to treat critically ill patients who need a longer time to recover. Long Term Acute Care Hospitals (LTACHs) are designed for this specific purpose. 

In fact, the clinical teams at LTACHs are equipped to provide an intensive level of care for medically complex and fragile patients. For example, healthcare leaders and providers collectively agree that the capabilities of LTACHs have extended the capacity of short-term hospitals as well as delivered a particularly helpful clinical expertise for a COVID-19 population – that of treating patients on a ventilator or in respiratory failure.

Although the need for Long Term Acute Care Hospitals has been proven in the last two years, these facilities have been part of the post-acute care landscape for decades. Medicare designated the level of care in the 1980s to speed discharge of medically complex patients from traditional short-term acute care hospital intensive care units in an effort to decrease Medicare spending. 

Positive Patient Outcomes and Outlook

During the COVID-19 pandemic, LTACH hospital beds served as an important overflow option when short-term care hospitals reached capacity. The outlook for LTACHs is now even brighter. Their patient outcomes and success during this time of crisis positioned these hospitals  in a more positive light with regulators and demonstrated the need to patients, families and other healthcare providers cementing their vital role in the care continuum.

Even with the changing sentiment, some healthcare leaders and providers aren’t completely clear on the benefits of LTACHs and the differences between LTACHs, skilled nursing facilities, inpatient rehabilitation facilities and nursing homes. Although each plays an important part in the post-acute care continuum, they offer different levels of care appropriate for different patient needs.

Nursing homes, also known as long-term care facilities (LTCFs), take care of more stable patients needing custodial care for longer periods of time, sometimes serving as patients’ lifetime residences. 

Skilled nursing facilities provide medical and rehabilitative care under the direct supervision of licensed healthcare professionals for a short-term as a transition between a hospital and residence.  

Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities (IRF) provide an intensive rehabilitation program and patients who are admitted must be able to tolerate three hours of intense rehabilitation services per day. 

LTACHs treat critically ill, medically fragile patients and comply with all the regulatory requirements of acute care hospitals; in addition, LTACH patients are required to have “medically complex” conditions requiring daily medical interventions , with a mean length of stay of 25 days or more.

Benefits of LTACHs

There are several benefits LTACHs offer for patients and referring hospitals.

  • Improve clinical outcomes
  • Increase patient endurance and strength with integrated rehabilitation services
  • Reduce readmission rates
  • Provide the appropriate level of care for critically ill patients needing a longer time to recover at the most appropriate time in their care trajectory 
  •  Optimize patient resource utilization and Medicare spending

Ensure your patients receive the appropriate level of care at the right time by educating yourself about LTACHs and how they help improve patient outcomes. Find out more about CHC ContinueCARE LTACHs.

Learn how CHC helps LTACH hospitals improve their performance.

By , VP Clinical Services Post-Acute Services October 12, 2021 Financial Performance, Operational Improvement, LTACH
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