Home Health to Relieve Overcrowded Hospitals When Disaster Strikes

Home health and hospice care providers in the United States now have a resource to turn to in the event of a public health emergency, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Long-Term, Home Health, and Hospice Care Planning Guide for Public Health Emergencies, published March 1, was developed by the CDC Healthcare Preparedness Activity (HPA), with guidance from stakeholders from long-term care facilities, home health agencies and hospice agencies.

Long-term, home health and hospice care agencies and facilities are expected to play a major role in helping to reduce the patient surge on hospital emergency departments and other health care sectors within their communities during a public health emergency, the planning guide states. For one, sick, but noncritical patients may have to be housed at a long-term care facility or treated in the community, as opposed to being sent to a hospital—as hospitals are already running at or near full capacity.

Because of this, the planning guide says, long-term care stakeholders must engage in public health emergency planning efforts within their communities.

Accordingly, the CDC identified the issues and gaps long-term care sectors face during a public health emergency—such as an influenza pandemic—and developed tools to assist them in addressing these gaps and issues.

The new resource revolves around six topic areas identified by relevant stakeholders. These topics, as written in the planning guide, are:

  • Situational awareness—maintaining awareness of the status of a public health emergency and the response to it
  • Continuity of operations—ensuring that your facility or agency continues to operate during a public health emergency
  • Facility/agency operations—ensuring that the appropriate personnel are in place to direct the operation of your facility or agency
  • Crisis standards of care—accommodating crisis standards of care
  • Staffing—ensuring that you have personnel who are available to respond to a public health emergency
  • Fatality management—managing fatalities in your facility

Every long-term care provider, home health care or hospice agency should assign one individual to serve as an emergency planning coordinator for their agency or facility, according to the planning guide. Ideally, this coordinator will have clinical and infection control experience and will be responsible for guaranteeing that all action plans in the planning guide are carried out. The emergency planning coordinator should be given the resources, time and authority to develop their facility’s or agency’s emergency preparedness and response plan, the planning guide states.

Prior to the publication of the Planning Guide, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a proposed rule that “would establish national emergency preparedness requirements for Medicare- and Medicaid-participating providers and suppliers to ensure that they adequately plan for both natural and man-made disasters, and coordinate with federal, state, tribal, regional, and local emergency preparedness systems.” Although there is no way to predict exactly what CMS will require in the final rule, the authors believe the Planning Guide, for the most part, is in alignment with CMS’s intentions, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice reported.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson