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Home Health delivers innovation and compassion during COVID

Published 05/29/2020

All healthcare providers were faced with obstacles in caring for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. For the South County Home Health team, one of the biggest challenges was the location where patients receive care: their own homes.

“The spread of COVID-19 meant we had to take extra precautions when entering patient homes,” said Ansje Gershkoff RN, BS, CMC, Director of South County Home Health. “Our team rose to the occasion because there were people who needed our help. We use a team-based approach to caring for our patients and are fortunate to have such a great team of clinicians here.”

Protecting patients and staff was a top priority. Home Health worked with the hospital’s Infection Prevention team to develop guidelines for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), hand sanitation, and other proactive measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Early on, all health providers faced similar challenges in obtaining PPE and finding proper guidance for patient care. Jessica Garvey PT, CSRS, COS-C, Clinical Rehab Manager, said the team focused on educating patients to address their concerns.

“We wanted patients to know what specific safety protocols we had instituted and why,” said Garvey. “Our team worked very hard to come up with optimal protocols and education for our staff and patients using guidance from our health system, national home care association, the Centers for Disease Control, and others.”

Home Health also increased its telemedicine offerings to minimize contact with patients whose care could be managed virtually. “It was comforting for patients to know we could still care for them without entering their home,” said Gershkoff. “For conditions that were less serious or didn’t require hands-on interventions, telehealth was a great solution.”

Physical therapist Lisa Clancy found the telehealth option to be particularly useful with an elderly patient who was recovering from hip surgery and a knee injury. The first three visits were conducted by video conference.

“I was pleasantly surprised how much we were able to accomplish,” said Clancy. “The patient was able to get her pain under control with a home exercise program that included massage techniques, stretching and strengthening. I was able to assess her gait as well, making suggestions for improvement.”

After making significant progress over the course of these initial visits, Clancy eventually began working with the patient in her home. “I was happy to deliver care in this person’s time of need, even if it was delivered in a non-traditional way,” said Clancy. “Video conferencing turned out to be an invaluable resource.”

Along with concerns about COVID and the patient’s underlying illness, Home Health caregivers had to deal with another challenge: the impact of isolation on patients, many of whom are elderly.

“It is hard enough being sick but the impact is even greater when you don’t have your loved ones around to care for and comfort you,” said occupational therapist Sheila Sweeney, OTRL/MOT. “I was surprised how happy patients were to see us come into their home. While we were there, our job, as always, was to care for and educate patients while giving them purposeful tasks to perform once we left.”

Increased communication didn’t just occur between patients and caregivers. It also happened between team members. Sweeney recalls how her therapy colleague Carol Sarubbi called her after working with a COVID-positive patient to describe how this individual preferred to be equipped with PPE.

“Carol knew I was going to be seeing the patient the next day,” said Sweeney. “I was very appreciative that she took the time to walk me through her visit and it made my appointment with the patient that much smoother.”

Communication was also key in distributing PPE to staff before they went into patient homes. Staff was in daily contact with Joe Hockhousen and Margaret Gabriele of the Medical Supply and Facilities team who ensured they had PPE and other supplies necessary to keep people safe.

The frontline caregivers were also quick to thank other support staff like communications coordinator Karen Rockwell and health information management clerk Dana Hines who managed incoming calls from patients and staff and coordinated home visits.

“I’m proud but not surprised by the way our team responded to this crisis,” said Gershkoff. “South County Home Health has always been defined by compassion, expertise, and innovation and these traits served us well during this crisis.”

Learn more about our Home Health services here >>