Why Having a Pandemic Preparedness Plan is Critical for Home Healthcare and Hospice Organizations

The coronavirus crisis has emphasized the critical need for home healthcare providers and hospice organizations to review and update their pandemic plans to ensure preparedness and the safety and wellbeing of their patients and workers. Without a strong and tested plan in place, a pandemic has the potential to put employee and patient lives at risk, upend an operation and instigate litigation in neglecting to implement effective and proper action steps in the face of a crisis. 

Following are several recommendations, courtesy of the CDC and the Department of Human and Health Services, that all home healthcare providers and hospice organizations should have in place to plan for, respond to, and manage a potential emerging infectious disease pandemic like COVID-19.

  • Create a committee to develop a pandemic safety plan, and appoint an individual to keep the plan updated on a regular basis. 
  • Make sure the plan includes a description of the organizational structure (i.e., lines of authority, function and assignment of responsibility) that will be used to implement the plan. 
  • Assign a point of contact to answer staff questions and provide consultation on infection control. Also, designate a point of contact for family/patient information or questions.
  • Monitor national (CDC) and local public health services on the number of infected cases and provide an update to the committee.
  • Create a list of healthcare entities and their points of contact (e.g., other home care services providers, local hospitals, residential care facilities, social service agencies, emergency medical services providers, health centers and rural health facilities, relevant community organizations with whom the home care provider/hospice anticipates that it will be necessary to maintain communication and coordination of care during a pandemic. 
  • Educate employees about the infection control and update polices as required. Make sure the staff understands the implications of – and control measures for – the pandemic and the current community response plan.
    • Support N95 respirator fit-testing for all employees and just-in-time education on recommended infection control precautions including fit-checking, applying simple mask to patients with cough, and hand hygiene.
    • Monitor availability of N95 respirators/powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) and other supplies including alcohol-based hand disinfectants, gloves, etc.
  • Prepare guidelines for conservative and re-use of N95 respirators/PAPRs if severe shortages are imminent, and plan contingencies if appropriate levels of respiratory protection are unavailable. 
  • Develop guidance for staff monitoring for signs of illness (including self-reporting, self-quarantine, and start/end of shift evaluation) and create a mechanism for reporting both illness and absenteeism.
  • Develop a return-to-work post illness policy for healthcare workers. 

Be sure the preparedness plan includes the following in the event a healthcare worker suspects a patient is infected with COVID-19, courtesy of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC):

  • Wear personal protective equipment including a gown and goggles along with a mask. 
  • Put a mask on the patient, and then place patient in a room by him or herself. Keep the patient as isolated as possible including isolation from family pets.
  • Notify the health department explaining the situation and wait for guidance. No one should leave the home, including agency staff, until clear guidance and direction have been given by the local, state or CDC representative. 
  • Staff with possible exposure to COVID-19 should contact healthcare provider and be evaluated in consultation with state or local health department personnel to plan for self-home isolation. Ensure the home care and hospice agency have policy in place for employee work restrictions, coordination of daily monitoring, use of paid time off and continuance of wages. 

Manchester Specialty Programs specializes in providing agents and brokers with totally integrated business insurance solutions to meet the needs of Home Care, Allied Health and Human/Social Services organizations. For more information about how our products and services can help protect your insureds, please contact us at 855.972.9399.

Sources: CDC, Department of Human and Health Services, NAHC