During the last several months we’ve seen firsthand the selflessness and courage that characterize our health care workers as they treat COVID-19-infected patients in hospitals and facilities, as well as continue to protect and take care of the most vulnerable at home. The home health care industry, in fact, is recognized as a critical element in the response to a pandemic. Many homecare workers not only provide assistance with daily living activities such as bathing, dressing and wound care, but also run errands for patients like going to the supermarket and pharmacy – potentially exposing themselves – and their patients – to the virus if not properly protected. The home health care workers’ ability to respond during a pandemic therefore depends on appropriate communication, extensive training, and adequate protections from their employer.
Initial and ongoing employee training is necessary to help minimize exposure to the virus during a pandemic. Caregivers should be retrained on the basics like washing hands, avoiding touching their face, avoiding contact with people who are sick and, if sick, to be directed to stay home. They should also be trained on how to care for an infected patient or one who is recovering from the virus, if that particular type of care is being provided. For example, some home health care franchises during the pandemic have established coronavirus task forces to disseminate essential information, materials and resources for franchisees and their employee caregivers while others are providing comprehensive documentation detailing the coronavirus, its signs and symptoms and patient risk assessment.
Home health care providers should also be ready to provide employees with an adequate supply of personal protective gear, including masks, gowns, and gloves. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, revealed that many home health care agencies had difficulty obtaining and distributing gear to workers, as hospitals and other facilities had priority in receiving the personal protective equipment (PPE). According to a survey performed in mid-April by the National Association of Home Care and Hospice (NAHC), 46% of home health care respondents had a 10-day or less supply of PPE, and 72% had less than a 20-day supply. This underscores the need to have infection control and emergency preparedness operational protocols in place with access to equipment suppliers. Access to supplies has improved over recent months, though firms should be ready should a surge in cases occur. During a pandemic, more flexibility is also needed as to how care is given. This was evident when changes were made to allow teleheath services to be performed by home health agencies.
In addition to providing proper equipment to workers, home health care agencies should have procedures in place to screen workers before they go into private homes, as well as policies for screening patients and others in the households. Standards should be in place on if, how and when to staff homes in which people are infected or quarantined. Working with family members is critical in providing the spectrum of care.
The quality of patient care depends on the ability for home health care workers to be able to perform their jobs safely and confidently. The pandemic has highlighted the invaluable work performed by the nation’s 3.3 million in-home workers who are on the frontline against the coronavirus, and the need for pandemic training and preparedness in the industry.
Manchester Specialty Programs provides agents and brokers with the ability to offer a totally integrated business insurance solution around the specific needs of Home Care, Allied Health and Human/Social Services organizations fundamental to communities. Our partner insurance carriers and agents/brokers offer coverage tailored to the needs of the current and emerging care delivery environment. For more information about our products, please contact us at 855.972.9399.