LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla., April 14, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Much of the media's focus on the healthcare system's ability to treat ever increasing numbers of COVID-19 (coronavirus) patients has centered on hospitals and physician's offices. Terms such as "flattening the curve" have entered our daily discussions as healthcare policy makers and providers fear a sudden surge in coronavirus patient demand, overwhelming the limited capacity of hospitals and physician's offices. In some of the pandemic's hot spots, such as New York, that is already happening.
Seemingly overlooked in this crisis, however, is a smaller, but very important healthcare sector, whose core services and the setting for delivery of those services are ideally suited for this pandemic – the home health industry.
Home health services include care by a nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech-language pathologist, medical social worker, and home health aide. There are approximately 2000 home health agencies in Florida.
Medicare home health patients, by definition, must be declared as homebound by their physician. Many are elderly and have multiple health conditions, making them highly susceptible to COVID-19. Home is, by far, the safest place for them to receive care.
According to Norma Joseph, president of Family Home Health Services, one of the things that has been forgotten or minimized with the current focus on coronavirus is the normal flu season, which is still in effect.
"Some of the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu are similar, such as fever and coughing. But COVID-19 patients typically experience much higher patterns of shortness of breath and breathing difficulties," she said. "It would be better for the patient in terms of potential exposure to COVID-19 and to relieve some of the pressure on the hospital system if physicians would first order a home health visit by a nurse to assess the patient's condition."
Joseph said many home health agencies are currently experiencing a decline in patient visits due to the ban on elective surgeries and assisted living facilities barring entry to home health clinicians except for serious cases such as wound care.
"We are definitely in a lull at present, but we fully expect things to pick up in two to three weeks," she said. "The hospitals have been forced to free up beds for coronavirus patients. Many discharged patients will require home care or they'll end up right back in the hospital."
Joseph said that patient volume is also down because some home health patients are denying entry to their homes to their caregivers for fear of contracting the virus.
"We are certainly taking every precaution to avoid spreading the virus by our clinical staff, but our bigger concern is patients may not be getting care for their existing health conditions. We take this as seriously as the risk of contracting coronavirus," she said.
Joseph added that Family Home Health, which serves 33 Florida counties, administers daily temperature and respiratory checks for all employees upon entry into the office. Caregivers adhere to all CDC guidelines on infection control and all are equipped with the necessary masks, gloves, gowns and other protective equipment to protect the health and safety of patients and their families in a home setting.