Home healthcare is a service model in which healthcare professionals provide active treatment in their patient’s homes. The elderly, disabled, and people with conditions that require acute inpatient care demand this service the most. During the pandemic, home healthcare has helped decrease hospitalization costs and hospital stays. In addition, it reduced the burden of COVID-19 care on hospitals where primary care is scarce. However, the pandemic also created and worsened the challenges faced by home healthcare providers.
For one thing, the social distancing protocols prompted the imposition of a curfew, which made it harder for healthcare professionals to travel to their patient’s homes. Many home healthcare professionals also noted that neither the federal government nor their agencies did enough to keep them safe.
The home healthcare industry as a whole also struggled. When the restrictions eased and young adults started going out again, they made the senior population vulnerable to the virus once more. As such, the demand for home healthcare increased, an event that not all home healthcare providers were able to satisfy.
That said, let’s enumerate the challenges in home healthcare during COVID-19:
1. Shortage of Home Caregivers
Some home healthcare providers were greatly overwhelmed by the pandemic because of the shortage in the number of caregivers. The shortage was already a problem in the industry before the pandemic. Despite the broadening of licensing parameters for skilled home caregivers in some states, not enough home caregivers were still available to satisfy the rising demand for their services. Factor in the high staff turnover and the burnout among healthcare workers during the pandemic and the shortage will really get worse.
2. Dysfunctional Medical Supply Chains
The pandemic has halted the supply chain, including that of medical supplies. As a result, many home caregivers were forced to ration and reuse their personal protective equipment (PPE), or use home-made alternatives. Discarding and replacing PPE was harder in the home environment. As home caregivers shed off their PPE, they risked getting infected by the virus or exposing their patients to it.
3. Little to No Assistance From Their Employers
Home caregivers couldn’t observe social distancing. Hence, they needed a regular supply of PPE to avoid having direct contact with their vulnerable patients. However, many home caregivers reported receiving only a little to no assistance from their employers. They weren’t given the resources for obtaining PPE, such as masks, gowns, and gloves. Also, they weren’t granted paid sick leaves and had trouble getting COVID-19 tests. As such, they had to choose between working and risking themselves, or staying at home and having no income to pay for their bills.
4. No Paid Sick Leaves
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), stated that home caregivers were excluded in the last stimulus bill from the mandated sick leave after exposure to the virus. The CARES Act gave employers the option to do this, hence SEIU demanded that any future stimulus bill include home caregivers among the workers entitled to a pandemic-related paid sick leave. The union also called for more affordable healthcare, access to testing, and adequate PPE for all caregivers.
5. Issues in Obtaining PPE
Home healthcare employers who provided PPE for their caregivers reported running into issues with their suppliers. Some have ordered supplies but received items that didn’t meet the U.S.’s standards. Others stated having no access to normal supply channels but were considered too small to be accommodated by the channels used by larger organizations.
How the Home Healthcare Industry Can Bounce Back
Despite the availability of vaccines, the pandemic is still far from over. The home healthcare industry must still provide the COVID-19-related demands of the caregivers, such as PPE and access to testing. They should collaborate with local testing facilities to get their home caregivers tested and quarantined, if necessary.
The industry should also prepare for the flu season. Vulnerable patients who catch the flu will gain a higher risk for COVID-19. Hence, employers should get all their caregivers and clinicians vaccinated against influenza. In addition, they should provide them with adequate PPE, and keep them updated on how to avoid community-based infection.
From a business perspective, home healthcare employers should use the internet to their advantage. They can advertise their services and share helpful information on social media. Optimizing their website is also a must; professional home healthcare SEO services will improve the ranking of their website in search engines. As a result, a user looking for quality home healthcare will see the optimized website first thing.
Overall, the industry’s priority should be the health and welfare of their home caregivers. The more security they provide for them, the more motivated they’ll be to work. No healthcare professional should feel like they have no choice. They must all go to work feeling protected, and be able to take breaks without fear of losing income.