By Robert A. Poarch
For the Home Health team at Mission Health’s CarePartners, COVID-19 hasn’t meant slowing down. “A lot more people are considered homebound now because it’s not safe for them to be out. Many may be at high risk, or their doctor recommends that they stay home at this particular point in time,” said Cathleen Adams, CNO and Executive Director for CarePartners. The Home Health team provides nursing, speech, physical and occupational therapy, and social services to people who are home bound due to acute or chronic illnesses or are recovering from recent surgeries.
CarePartners Home Health nurses typically see about six patients daily, and their schedule can take them to multiple counties. “Usually it’s just one nurse visiting, unless there’s a WOCN who can coordinate his visits, for instance the wound is getting worse or we need him to assess it because the patient isn’t seeing a doctor on a regular basis,” said Kimberly Ericson, LPN, Home Health team member for eight years. “Sometimes we coincide with physical therapists, social workers, occupational therapists, CNAs, OTs. We try to just have one person at a time to keep from wearing the patient out.”
Having someone enter your home during a pandemic can be stressful. Understanding this, Home Health team members are constantly evaluating and making changes to keep themselves safe, as well as their patients. Following Mission Hospital and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, team members wear masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) for each visit. The PPE goes a long way in helping patients feel reassured that they will be safe.
“We mostly just use regular masks. We don’t use the N95s unless the person has symptoms. We have masks with shields if they have any type of droplets. We also wear gowns and gloves. I go through numerous boxes of gloves and hand sanitizer. We also have our own soap and paper towels for handwashing. All we have to do is ask for some water from the sink to wash up,” said Ericson. “We’re just really practicing a lot of careful use of PPE and make sure that there’s a great deal of understanding expressed to our patients so that they’re reassured.”
During the early COVID-19 days, some home health patients refused to be seen. That changed quickly, though. “Some of our services are desperately need,” said Ericson. “For example, most wounds need a great deal of attention. Wound vacs, for example, have to be changed Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so it’s really necessary to see them regularly in order for them to heal.”
The Benefits of Healing at Home
One of the goals of the Home Health team is to improve the patient’s home environment and teach them how to care for themselves. “I think that people heal best when they’re at home. They’re receptive in their home. When they can access healthcare in their home, I think they have better outcomes,” said Adams. “There’s no better place to be surrounded by your family and the people who love you than at home. As long as we can make home a healthy environment, that is the best place for patients and families to heal.”
“Once we’re in the home, we try to do a lot of teaching, such as diet. One thing that’s changed a great deal with this crisis is reassuring them that we are there to take care of them, and we’re doing the best we can to make sure we’re keeping them safe. Sometimes, they just want a sounding board,” said Ericson.
Home Health team members are dealing with their own stress. But, they’re still there for their patients.
“Rapid learning and rapid process changes, from a mental and emotional perspective, has certainly taken a toll on them,” said Adams, about her Home Health team members. “They are very, very brave. And, not one of them has said, ‘I’m not going to do this.’”
Taking Advantage of Telehealth
CarePartners Home Health has been offering telehealth services for some time, but the current climate has fostered even greater virtual interaction. “Prior to COVID-19, we had about 20 patients using telemonitoring or telehealth. Now, we’re using it for hundreds of patients,” said Adams. “Telehealth has been very helpful in many cases.”
Telehealth allows Home Health team members to check in frequently with patients and monitor them. Adams strongly believes that telehealth offers many benefits to patients and the Home Health team members, and will be used more in the future. “It’s really a more personal interaction. And, it’s quicker than having to drive to patient’s homes,” said Adams. “Telehealth is one of those things that we want to keep using in the future, because it can be used in any kind of situation, such as snow and ice.”
“Our patients are so pleased that they don’t have to leave their home, and be exposed and travel a long way to a doctor,” said Ericson. “They can remain in the privacy of their own home, with their own loved ones. They don’t have to be in a hospital or a nursing home. Sometimes, we’re saving them from having to being taken care of somewhere else.”
Telewound, another Home Health virtual service, is also getting a lot of usage, allowing specialists to see pictures of wounds so they can evaluate them. “The COVID-19 crisis has kind of brought this technology to the forefront,” said Adams. “This is a powerful tool for healthcare use.”
“We’re taking new patients in every one of our service lines,” said Adams. “We are committed to caring for patients whether they’re COVID-19 positive or not.”
“We love our patients. They do more for us sometimes than we do for them. Our patients really bless us with their gratitude!” said Ericson.
CarePartners Home Health services include:
• Physical therapy
• Occupational therapy
• Speech-language therapy
• Social workers
• Home safety evaluations
Cathleen Adams is CNO and Executive Director for CarePartners. Kimberly Ericson, LPN, is a Home Health provider with CarePartners.