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Hebrew SeniorLife CEO Shares Views of 2019 Senior Care Trends

New integrated care models, nontraditional partners, and affordable housing for seniors will be essential components of the 2019 senior care agenda

With the federal government back to work after the longest shutdown in United States history, health care is expected to move back to the national agenda. The constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and the efforts by the Democratic-majority House of Representatives to protect the federal health care law are just two of many drivers that will keep health care a top priority for the United States in 2019. At the same time, other parts of the health care ecosystem, including senior care, will also be in transition this year and beyond.

According to Louis J. Woolf, president and CEO of Harvard Medical School-affiliated Hebrew SeniorLife, a nonprofit organization committed to improving the lives of older adults, "The combination of the Affordable Care Act, the push for value-based care, and the silver tsunami of aging baby boomers has set in motion incredible economic and social challenges, as well as opportunities in senior care. While the future of the law itself is under debate, the fact remains that seniors want and need innovations in the health care system to help them remain healthier, and as they age, stay more independent. Furthermore, when care is needed, seniors want it provided in a more coordinated and cost-effective manner."

With a growing, more consumer-savvy senior population in mind, Woolf shares his views on senior care trends in 2019.

1. Payment reform and value-based care: Payment reform will continue to bring hospitals, postacute care (PAC) organizations, and social services providers closer together to better control the type, scope, location, and cost of care that a patient receives. Hospitals will most likely partner with a short list of PACs, so PACs that differentiate themselves in terms of quality, collaboration, and cost, and are perceived as market leaders, will likely care for a growing share of patients. The momentum around payment reform is likely to continue while the Affordable Care Act undergoes the appeal process; however, its transformative pace may slow while providers monitor the proceedings, despite the focus on cost-effective quality outcomes and the early benefits manifesting in improved transitions of care and reduced fragmentation.

2. New integrated care models: Once siloed operations, the physician's office, ambulatory care, acute care and PAC organizations, as well as community social services, will increasingly join forces to focus on a "one care" experience for the patient, leading to better outcomes. We expect to see improved quality of life for seniors and reduced hospital admissions as innovative integrated care models emerge, especially between acute and PAC organizations.

3. Nontraditional teammates: In 2019 we will see an increase in high quality and cost effective home- and community-based services that cater to seniors' needs via preventative care and assistance with daily tasks. Collaborations will increasingly include nontraditional partners, such as private duty services, transportation providers, maintenance workers, PAC services, and others. This movement is giving rise to a growing group of geriatric care specialists and new organizations such as the National Aging in Place Council.

4. Explosive rise in Alzheimer's disease and depression: Diagnoses of Alzheimer's disease will continue to increase dramatically in 2019. Alzheimer's is the only cause of death (of the top 10 in the United States) with no identified way to be prevented, cured, or significantly slowed, and it costs the nation more than $236 billion annually. Many seniors struggle with dementia, depression, or both. As a result, Hebrew SeniorLife and others will increase focus on the proper diagnosis, management, and education around these conditions among patients, as well as support for their family members and caregivers.

5. Increased need for affordable supportive housing solutions: The health care and housing markets are unprepared to meet seniors' needs for affordability, accessibility, and supportive services. The burden of high housing costs forces millions of low-income seniors to sacrifice spending on basic necessities, damaging their health and well-being. The shortage of support services makes many housing options ineffective even if they are accessible. Additionally, disconnects between housing programs and the health care system put many aging seniors at risk of poor quality of life and premature institutionalization. In 2019, we will see new research and demonstration projects promoting the health outcomes and cost savings of affordable housing with supportive services models pioneered by Hebrew SeniorLife, the LeadingAge network, and others.

"The coming year will continue to define health care in America, particularly for seniors who face dementia and other illnesses as they age. It is a social and economic imperative for health care organizations to think differently about how they address the needs of seniors today and take steps to prepare for their future," Woolf concludes.

— Source: Hebrew SeniorLife