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What is an LTACH?

An LTACH or Long-Term Acute Care Hospital is not a term you may be familiar with. This is a special type of hospital that focuses on the long-term, in-patient treatment of individuals suffering from a critical medical need that requires a specialized level and extended term of care. Often, we refer to our LTACHs as Critical Illness Recovery Hospitals because we specialize in helping people recover from critical illnesses.

Although they’re often confused with a long-term care facility because of their name, a long term acute care hospital (or LTACH) is a hospital in every sense of the word. The only difference in an LTACH and the regular hospital is that an LTACH is designed for patients who need care for a more extended  length of time.

The process of making decisions about care for you or your loved one can be confusing and intimidating, so we’ve broken down exactly what an LTACH is. We’ll look at its benefits, and we’ll delve into how it differs from other care options, what conditions are best treated in an LTACH setting, and who you can expect to pay for the care.

Why Would My Doctor Recommend a Critical Illness Recovery Hospital?

While a traditional hospital may average a four to five day patient stay, the average length of care in a long term acute care hospital (LTACH) is 25 days[1]. The care received in an LTACH though is exactly the same level you would expect in a traditional hospital.

They have similar nurse ratios, daily physician rounds, and even the capacity for surgery. This means that if you or a loved one has a hospital-level medical condition that requires a lengthy stay, up to and including surgery, an LTACH may be your best option.

In addition to the average length of stay, an LTACH also differs from a traditional hospital in that, while a hospital may offer many generalized services, an LTACH tends to be specialized. These long-term hospitals focus on offering expert care for a smaller number of conditions, ensuring that patients who fit these categories receive the highest standard of care possible.

Patients in an LTACH benefit from intensive interventions, from wound care and infectious disease management to cardiac monitoring, antibiotic infusions, and ventilator weaning. Put simply, compared to a traditional hospital, an LTACH handles care for patients who are sicker, require a longer length of care, and have a specific condition, illness, or need the facility specializes in.

In general, an LTACH will receive patients directly from the intensive care unit (ICU) of a traditional hospital although this may vary depending on your or your loved one’s medical needs.

What is the difference between an LTACH, an STACH, and a SNF?

Since the terminology can get confusing, let’s break down the difference between an LTACH, an STACH, and a SNF.

An STACH is a short-term acute care hospital, or the traditional hospital you normally think of. As discussed earlier, an STACH differs from an LTACH only in the length of stay and the number of conditions treated.

So, you can think of an STACH as the generalist who does just about everything for a short amount of time, whereas an LTACH would be the specialist you go to when you need someone who understands your exact needs, knows how to get you to your goals, and will be with you for the long-run.

A SNF or skilled nursing facility is another term you might hear in your journey to recovery. It differs from both an STACH and an LTACH in that it is for subacute care. In other words, it’s for patients who no longer need intensive intervention, but still need some regular medical attention.

A SNF will still provide around the clock medical care with skilled nursing services such as wound care, injections, IVs, and physical therapy, but the level of care needed by patients here is far less. While SNFs do focus on rehabilitation, they do not provide hospital level care.

It’s also important to note that long-term acute care is not hospice care or palliative care. Physicians refer patients to an LTACH because the patient is expected to recover, which is one of the reasons they’re also known as critical illness recovery hospitals.

What are the benefits of an LTACH?

It’s clear that an LTACH has an important role to play in patient care, and it can deliver numerous benefits for you or your loved one.

Many times upon discharge from a traditional hospital, you may not be physically ready to return home, yet cannot continue to stay at a subacute facility. At an LTACH, you can receive around the clock physician and nursing care, physical, occupational, and respiratory therapy, and most importantly treatment from a multidisciplinary team focused on your specific condition or conditions.

You continue to receive the same expert care you were given in the traditional hospital. You meet with your team seven days a week, so you and your family are confident in the path that has been chosen to give you the best recovery possible.

This keeps patients on the road to better health and gives each the best chance possible to fully recover and regain independence.

What conditions are best treated by an LTACH?

As stated earlier, an LTACH is not a generalist but a specialist, offering patients the highest level of care with a smaller list of services.

Complex needs requiring longer stays which an LTACH may specialize in, include:

  1. Wound care – If you or a loved one requires complex wound treatment, your physician will likely refer you to an LTACH. The expert team at the hospital is best equipped to handle complicated dressing changes, draining wounds, and debridement, as well as cellulitis and wound infections. They can even offer negative pressure wound therapy which uses a vacuum dressing to promote wound healing.
  2. Respiratory care – Patients requiring oxygen support and airway maintenance can also greatly benefit from a stay in an LTACH before moving to a subacute care facility. Trained respiratory therapists can help wean patients off of ventilators and can care for patients with chronic and complex respiratory conditions.
  3. Renal care – Renal patients are often referred to an LTACH to help stop or delay Acute Renal Failure (ARF) or End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). The LTACH is able to provide daily physician monitoring, dialysis, case management, dietary and nutritional support, and therapy.
  4. Rehabilitation – Due to age or chronic illness, many patients enter an LTACH to restore function and mobility, improve cognitive and emotional abilities, regain independence, and overcome communication or swallowing disorders. The highly specialized team of therapists and physicians at an LTACH can design a therapy program to meet you or your loved one’s individual needs including physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

Nurses are on staff 24 hours a day to help with all of your needs, and,the dietary department of the LTACH ensures that every patient receives optimum nutrition.

Upon transfer to the hospital, you or your loved one is assessed for dietary needs by a Registered Dietitian and a nutrition plan is created. Underlying diagnoses, such as diabetes, renal disease, cardiac disease, and wound healing are taken into account. When necessary, an LTACH also has the capability to support patient nutrition through feeding tubes or intravenous routes.

Who pays for an LTACH?

If your physician has decided that you or a loved one requires care in an LTACH, you’re probably also wondering whether your insurance will cover the stay and what your responsibilities will be.

It’s comforting to know that most major insurance plans, as well as Medicare, do offer coverage for these facilities, although there are usually requirements you have to meet, such as length of stay. For this reason, you should check with your insurance provider, or Medicare, as well as the LTACH you’ve chosen in order to know exactly what to expect.

The critical illness recovery hospital staff will properly screen patients prior to admission and throughout your stay to ensure appropriateness and meet any insurance requirements necessary.

Although the term long-term acute care can seem intimidating, it’s actually a step on the path to wellness and independence – one where you or your loved one can get the quality care you need to get back to the life you love.

At AMG, we’re here to help every step of the way, from hospital to home.

To find a location that can meet your long-term acute care hospital needs or to discuss your situation with one of our professionals, click here.


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