Knoxville woman has trouble with disabled son’s round-the-clock care

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The mother of a disabled child who received around-the-clock care reached out to WATE 6 On Your Side to say she needed help. The problem is private duty nurses were not showing up for duty regularly.

Under TennCare, Tennessee’s Medicaid program, the state will pay for private duty nurses to care for disabled children. Those severely disabled, both children and adults, may receive round-the-clock service seven days a week.

TennCare contracts with private companies, but they say there’s a shortage of trained home health and private duty nurses to provide the care that some people require.

For the third weekend in a row, in late July, a shift was missed and Hanna Smith, a single mom, had to skip work and come home because without private duty nursing care, she is the back-up for her son Kaden who requires round-the-clock help.

Kaden is a quadriplegic, a diabetic, and has chronic lung disease. TennCare provides the 7-year old with skilled nurses 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The day WATE 6 On Your Side visited, no LPN from Quality Private Duty Care was on duty. Smith said shifts were missed frequently throughout July by the home care provider.

Smith says she was told they’re doing the best they can and to always have a plan B, which is her, and that can be quite a challenge.

“It is either my son or work. I’m going to choose my son because without frequent care and without someone being right there with him, it could be life threatening,” she said.

TennCare says their records show “overnight shifts for Kaden were missed by Qualilty Private Duty Care” and when that happens, a back-up plan is arranged and that plan may include a parent. In this case, a single mom who had to miss work.

“I have to figure out ways to make money to keep my electric on, to keep his oxygen going,” she said.

In an email to WATE 6 On Your Side, TennCare said “there is a shortage of home health and private duty nursing staff to provide the level of care many 24/7 patients require.” TennCare said, “Kaden’s health case manager is working to find another provider that will have the resources and staff available to meet his health care needs.”

Kaden now gets nurses from a new private duty nursing care company which started assisting the little boy more than a month ago.

“It’s been great.There have been no gaps in coverage. There have been no issues with the company or the director,” Smith said.

Smith says the new agency has not missed a single shift since taking over her son’s care. WATE 6 On Your Side reached out to Kaden’s former provider and asked why shifts were missed in July and August. Quality Private Duty Care said in a statement: “We pride ourselves in being one of the best providers of home care services in our area. Our ability to staff our cases for properly skilled staff for maximum hours is superior.”

“Right after I saw you, I went about another two weeks without full service, without full staff,” said Smith.

Smith says she is now back to work full time, that she confidence in Kaden’s new provider, and is grateful that she called for help.

Quality Private Duty Care said in its statement it serves many satisfied patients, one of the reasons many continue to choose the company. The state says the shortage of trained home health, private duty nurses is one that not only affects TennCare, but health care across all spectrums.

Several LPNs who care for children who need round-the-clock services told WATE the pay is good, but when nursing services are understaffed, the extra hours can be overwhelming.

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