CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- No one wants to go to a hospital, much less stay there. Unless it's absolutely necessary, we would rather stay at home, living independently. And if we can, we should. This much we know for sure.
That's why health-care professionals still make house calls. At this very moment, right in your own community, maybe even next door, some of your neighbors are quietly receiving health-care services at home.
Each year, some 69 home health-care organizations in West Virginia send professional caregivers -- nurses, therapists, social workers and others -- to look after an estimated 22,000 patients.
That's the good news.
Yet the value of health care at home -- the lifeline it literally represents for millions of Americans, especially the elderly, the chronically ill, the homebound -- remains little recognized, seldom appreciated and largely misunderstood.
It's still a well-kept secret. In all the recent debate over health-care reform, all too many Americans, elected officials and citizens alike, have overlooked the advantages of health-care services delivered right to your doorstep.
As a result, vast needs are still going unmet. An estimated 12 million Americans currently receive health care at home, according to the National Association for Home Care & Hospice. Yet to the best of my knowledge, no organization tracks the untold millions of patients who are no doubt either going without health care at home or getting less than clinically needed.
That's the bad news.
Consider the context. The aging of the American population is accelerating. And about three in four of Americans age 65-plus have multiple chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and COPD.
More Americans, especially older ones, are living alone than at any time in history, too. Nearly a third of all households in the U.S. have just one resident -- a total of 31 million of us, compared to just four million in 1950. And the Baby Boomers now turning age 65 at the rate of roughly 10,000 per day may well prefer to live alone more insistently than previous generations.