BANGOR, Maine — Kay Hunter of Hampden, a registered nurse at Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Brewer, couldn’t walk 10 steps without needing a rest after she spent six days in a local hospital in 2011 recovering from congestive heart failure caused by an infection.
Three months later, she was back on her feet, working two days per week thanks to the home-based rehabilitation she underwent through the Bangor Beacon Community program.
“It meets patients where they are with the needs they have at the moment,” Hunter said Tuesday.
Bangor health care leaders gathered Tuesday to celebrate the third and final year of a program aimed at changing the way health care works across the country.
In May 2010, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems received a three-year, $12.7 million federal grant to found the Bangor Beacon Community, which is aimed at reducing health care costs by working with chronically ill patients at home in order to keep them out of hospitals.
Bangor is one of just 17 Beacon Communities across the nation. Partners in Bangor’s branch include Acadia Healthcare, Eastern Maine Medical Center, Penobscot Community Health Care and St. Joseph Hospital.
In the United States, 20 percent of the population accounts for 80 percent of the country’s health care costs, according to Jill McDonald, spokeswoman for Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
“If you concentrate on the most high-risk people … you can reduce the whole cost of health care,” McDonald said.
The goal of Beacon Communities is to limit the amount of emergency room visits by people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease. Instead, registered nurses work with patients recovering from illnesses while at home, both in person and during regular phone calls discussing health issues and recovery.
Hospital officials say the program is showing results. For example, in 2011 nearly 20 percent of chronic heart failure patients visiting Eastern Maine Medical Center were readmitted to the hospital. In 2012, that number dropped to 10 percent, according to Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems’ annual report.
In its third and final year, Bangor Beacon is working to evolve into a Pioneer Accountable Care Organization, or ACO. Under the Affordable Care Act, accountable care organizations are charged with working collaboratively to accept collective accountability for the cost and quality of care delivered to patients. There will be 31 other Pioneer organizations across the country.
Hunter said she believes strongly in the Beacon approach to health care — getting people with chronic health problems back on their feet and keeping them out of the emergency department.
“I know my energy won’t ever come back to what it was, but I’m living and I’m happy,” Hunter said. “There is more to life than getting out of bed.”