Fifty years ago, home care and hospice providers formed a state association to be leaders and partners in a health care continuum and experts in advocating for health care delivery at home. We want to recognize the dedication, commitment and service our state’s home health, home care, and hospice workers performed daily, on the front lines, during a global pandemic.
Home care and hospice nurses, aides and therapists continue to safely provide services and compassionate care to thousands of Nebraskans from infants to the elderly in their residences. Home care patients have complex, long-term care needs due to illness, disability, chronic conditions and recovery. They are among the most vulnerable and fragile, making them highly susceptible to infection and complications from the coronavirus. This includes Nebraskans with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, multiple sclerosis, cardiac conditions, cancer and other ailments.
Home health nurses, aides and therapists provide cardiac care; wound care; infusion therapy; respiratory care; physical, occupational and speech therapy; pain management and assessment; and administer and reconcile medications.
In addition to administering medication, home health nurses are capable and available to work with county health departments to vaccinate patients who are primarily homebound. Priority must be given for these Nebraskans to receive vaccinations in the safety of their homes through coordination with the local public health departments.
Since the COVID-19 public health emergency was declared, home care and hospice providers overcame the struggle to acquire the personal protective equipment and supplies necessary to safely provide patient care. Despite problems with the global supply chain and unexpected rising costs, home care and hospice workers were persistent in their efforts to provide high quality care without jeopardizing their own health or patient safety. This includes infection control plans and practices.
Home health agencies monitor and manage patients’ health care to avoid emergency room visits and rehospitalizations. During the pandemic, home health agencies are partnering with hospitals and caring for patients in their homes, enabling hospitals to keep beds open for those most critically ill. Agencies are also caring for Nebraskans discharged from hospitals and who return home to recover. Home care workers are assisting students with remote learning and providing respite care for families of essential workers.
For patients who are not comfortable receiving services in their home, remote patient monitoring is utilized. Home health nurses consistently monitor and track a patient’s vital statistics including blood pressure, oxygen level, weight and temperature. This helps patients manage diseases through exercise, nutrition and fluid intake. Changes in a patient’s condition are quickly identified and proper treatment prevents a doctor or hospital visit. Expanding telehealth and increasing reimbursement for remote patient monitoring enables providers to be proactive with a patient’s health care needs, reduces the state’s costs for in-person visits, and helps deliver care in areas experiencing provider shortages.
Prior to 2020, the home care industry faced a rise in demand for services and a shortage of nurses and therapists. The pandemic has exacerbated those challenges. Our state’s elderly population is expected to grow another 35% by 2030, along with the need and demand for home care and hospice services because home health care is the lowest-cost health care delivery option and Nebraskans prefer to receive care in the comfort and safety of their homes. Adjustments in the reimbursement rates for home health services are needed to cover operating expenses and, most importantly, ensure access to services for our citizens.
If you know a home care or hospice provider, please thank them for their dedication and service.
James Summerfelt, of Omaha, is CEO of Visiting Nurse Association and president of the Nebraska Association for Home Health Care and Hospice.