Home Health Care and Safety in the Age of Covid 19

In the 1990s, I reluctantly had to leave my hospital position in oncology after an  operation on my right foot surgery that left me unable to stand on my feet for even just a few hours. I decided to go into home health  to support my children and possibly help my foot heal.

Surprisingly, I found that I loved home health nursing and I learned a lot that even helped my patients when I was finally able to resume hospital nursing some years later.

Home health nursing wasn’t an easy job even back then. I drove up to 200 miles some days to care for just about every kind of patient from medical patients just needing blood work to hospice patients and even a young man unable to move below his neck after a diving accident. But I loved the independence and really getting to know my patients and helping them in their own environment.

In May, I wrote a blog “Covid 19 and Nursing Homes” about friends of mine who refused to go to extended care nursing facilities because of the outbreaks of Covid 19 which are especially dangerous to the elderly. Instead, these friends chose to stay home with help from home health caregivers, family and/or friends.

I wondered how home health nursing was now coping with the pandemic.

HOW COVID 19 IS CHANGING HOME HEALTH CARE

A May 18, 2020 article written by 3 geriatricians and titled “How coronavirus could forever change home health care, leaving vulnerable older adults without care and overburdening caregivers” reveals how Covid 19 is now changing a sector of health care that has received little attention during the pandemic.

According to the article, over 5 million people in the US are currently receiving paid home care from personal care assistants, home health aides, nurses and therapists. But even before Covid 19, there were not enough of these health care workers.

As the geriatricians write:

 “(N)ow, not only must home care continue for older adults, and for those with disabilities, but many people with COVID-19 will need it too”.

While home health care reduces the stress on hospital systems, Covid 19 means that home health care is facing new challenges.  Because home health workers travel to multiple homes and people, this increases the risk of possible Covid 19 transmission both for the workers and their often frail and older patients. How can health care workers and their patients both stay safe during the pandemic?

The geriatricians researched the problem and came up with 10 recommendations to  deal with Covid 19 and also improve home health care.

These recommendations include access to personal protective equipment (PPE), regular COVID-19 testing for both staff and patients,  Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) expanding the definitions of “home health” and “homebound” to include “personal care” to help more patients, as well as increasing federal funding for community health workers.

They also recommend more flexibility using options like telehealth which has been particularly useful for one of my older friends.

ONE BIG REASON WHY I LEFT HOME HEALTH NURSING

Although this article did not address this issue, one of the big reasons I finally left home health when my foot improved was the danger of working in a large city like St. Louis that has several high-risk areas as well as the roving packs of wild dogs  that were a problem at the time.

I often saw patients in these areas and sometimes even during the night when I was on call for the agency. On occasion, even the police stopped some of us nurses when were going in to see a patient in these high-risk areas and they offered to wait outside until we returned. I especially appreciated this because as a single mother, I was concerned about what could happen to my children if anything happened to me.

Personally, I saw guns in some households, was cut off by some young men trying to stop my car, dealt with some suddenly psychotic patients, tried to mitigate domestic disturbances, etc. Some areas were so high-risk that I took the fire escape for safety reasons rather than use the elevator to get to my patients’  apartments.

It took many attempts before we nurses finally got our agency to help us get pepper spray and provide a security person to accompany us nurses to high-risk areas when we felt it was necessary.

But sadly, I could never consider going back to home health now with the protests, riots and escalating violence we are seeing in many cities like St. Louis and other areas.

I fervently hope and pray that the important issues that are tearing our country apart will soon be resolved for the safety of all of us.

Especially because I am a nurse, I do know how much every life matters.

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