By Chad Frey

Newton Kansan

It will be the largest of its kind in Kansas, and one of the largest in the nation, when Bluestem launches a 20-county initiative with the support and blessing of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.

Called "Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly," the program is a Medicare program with a Medicaid state option that provides community based care and services to those 55 and older. Those services are tailored to each individual and designed to keep people at home.

"About 7 percent of those in PACE are in a nursing home," said Shawn Sullivan, secretary of KDADS. "They are also able to keep people out of emergency rooms and hospitals."

Many of those served would otherwise need nursing home care. Sullivan said statewide nursing homes are at about 80 percent capacity.

Bluestem Communities of Hesston and North Newton has been awarded the PACE program by KDADS  for 20 counties. Cities included are Newton, Hutchinson, Salina, Junction City and Manhattan. Bluestem plans to begin offering PACE services in 2015.

Chris Scott, special project coordinator for Bluestem, said initially Bluestem will open a "primary center" in McPherson which will resemble an adult day care. Remote care centers will be opened in other counties as the program grows. Scott said there are also plans for a mobile clinic.

"There is a level of contact that helps changes in health condition to be recognized early and quickly," Scott said.

Statewide the program will expand from eight counties to 59.

The Kansas PACE program was previously only to available consumers in Sedgwick, Shawnee, Douglas, Jackson, Jefferson, Osage, Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties serving approximately 377 people.

It is estimated there are more than 2,000 people eligible for the program in the 20 county Bluestem service area.

Although all PACE participants must be certified as in need of nursing home care to enroll, only about 7 percent of PACE participants nationally reside in a nursing home. If a PACE enrollee does need nursing home care, the PACE program pays for it and continues to coordinate the enrollee's care.

"We recognize the growing demand for services and the inability of the government to continue to pay for it," Scott said. "We needed to look at a different model."

PACE was established as a way to provide consumers, their families, caregivers and health-care providers the flexibility to meet health-care needs while helping consumers to continue to live in their communities. PACE provides all medical and social services for older adults who qualify for nursing home care, serving PACE individuals who are age 55 or older, certified by the state to need nursing home care and are able to live safely in the community at the time of enrollment.