Nursing group joins AAHomecare

Monday, December 31, 2001

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Furthering an initiative to forge a unified voice for home care on Capitol Hill, the field of major assocations representing home care dropped from four to three Jan. 2 when the American Home Care Association (AHCA) merged into the American Association for Homecare (AAH).

"We think that what we're annoucing is a great milestone," said AAH Chair David Savitsky. "The more consolidated our voice, the more representation behind us, the greater the opportunity to influence legislation and regulation."

The merger becomes effective Jan. 1 when AHCA ceases to function and AAH adopts the representation of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based trade group's approximately 200 members. Making the transition from AHC to to AAH is Ann Howard as director of federal policy and Carmen Johnston as director of special programs. One member of the AHCA board will join the AAH board; two other AHCA board members have been named ex-officio members of the AHCA board.

AHCA was formed about one year ago from the merger of the Home Care Assocation of America and the American Federation of Home Care. The AHCA board voted in favor of joining AAH by a slim 6-5 margin, but AHCA president, John Beard said board member reservations had more to do with timing than philosophical differences.

"It wasn't a vote not to merge, but more the timing of it," he said. "They (opponents) felt that as an organization, we should take more time to continue to operate independently."

AAHomecare came together two years ago when 750 members of NAMES, 270 members from HIDA Home Care and 150 members of the Home Health Services and Staffing Association (HHSSA) merged. Today, without the additional AHCA members, AAH's membership numbers 800. Its annual operating budget is about $3 million; some leaders believe that the organization will reach maturation when its annual revenues reach $5 million.

One route toward that magic number would involve further consolidation. The home healthcare market is now served by the Visiting Nurse Associations of America (VNAA), established in 1983 as the official, national association of freestanding, not-for-profit, community based visiting nurse agencies (VNAs). The association claims 200 members working out of 513 locations in 40 states. Its annual budget is about $2 million.

The largest home healthcare organization is NAHC, the National Association for Home Care. The organization declined to reveal membership information for this article. Some estimates put its annual budget at $6 million, down from about $8 million the previous year. Founded in 1982, and led since then by Val J. Halamandaris, NAHC was organized to "serve as the unified voice for the home care and hospice community," according to the group's Web site.

AAH is also interested in creating a unified voice for home care. Some members favor consolidating all of home healthcare into a single organization, but that doesn't mean AAH and NAHC are also mulling a merger.

"We'll work closely with other associations to bring about a unified voice," said AAH's Savitsky. "We work closely with them so that our positions on nearly every issue are the same."

At NAHC, one official viewed the AAH/AHCA merger as a competitive move since AAH, like NAHC, has "opened up to everybody." Still, the official allowed that his group worked well with other association staffers.

"When it comes down to differences in legislative strategy between us, those difference are really around the margins," he said. "Our goals are verty much the same."

Other critics of the unified home healthcare association worry that the home medical equipment industry is losing its voice, incrementally, as home health nursing fattens their ranks at AAH.

"When you've gone through your issues with a legislator, and he asks you what two issues you're most concerned about, and you have to give him only two, where does the DME fall on that list?" asks one critic.

Advocates of the unified voice say the benefits of consolidation outweigh deficits and cite a recent breakfast with Michgan Congressman Dave Camp. "He commented that it was so refreshing to sit down and have us in there talking about issues with a unified voice," said one AAH member. HME