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Via Christi elder care program in Wichita suspended

A senior care program operated by Via Christi Health in the Wichita area has been suspended after federal regulators found “severe clinical and operational deficiencies.”

In an attempt to help seniors remain at home, Via Christi HOPE offers participants a comprehensive health plan that includes primary care, specialists, medical equipment and home care services such as nursing. The program also provides transportation to its clinic in Wichita.

In order to qualify, participants must be at least 55 years old and live in Sedgwick County, which contains Wichita. The program is not offered to residents of Pittsburg, Kansas, where Via Christi operates a hospital.

Launched in 2002, Via Christi HOPE primarily serves seniors who are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare, the federal health benefits for poor and elderly people. It operates under the Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, which provides federal health care support for medical services and in-home care.

In a letter to Via Christi, the Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services said the organization must stop enrolling new people in the program, saying it “failed substantially to provide its participants with medically necessary items and services … which adversely affected (or had the substantial likelihood of adversely affecting) its participants.”

The order came after an unscheduled audit in August found more than a dozen miscues that allegedly hurt patients’ health. In one case, health care workers found a homebound patient with broken teeth, but no dental appointment was scheduled. Two months later, the patient was hospitalized with a tooth abscess and was later placed on a ventilator due to the infection.

In that case and others, the patient had telephoned Via Christi HOPE multiple times to complain of pain.

The program was also cited for failing to assess whether patients could safely live at home. One diabetic enrollee lived at home without electricity, making it impossible to keep his insulin at the required temperature during the hot summer months, but Via Christi HOPE had not reassessed his living situation at the time of the audit.

The audit also found that on “many” occasions, home health aides failed to show up for scheduled home visits or did not perform chores specified in a plan of care.

CMS gave Via Christi until Oct. 11 to provide a plan of correction for the program. The health system can also appeal the suspension of the program.

Via Christi did not immediately return a request for comment.

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