In anticipation of Hurricane Harvey, local home health care providers geared up to hunker down.
The storm, which reached the Texas coastline Friday, August 25, arrived months before home health care agencies are due to comply with new emergency preparedness standards from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
As of Monday morning, the Category 4 storm has already caused record flooding in southeast Texas, drenching the Houston metro area with more than 30 inches of rain. Harvey is expected to linger near the state for several more days.*
Home health care providers in the region adhered to their emergency protocols and prepared for the storm before the weekend, and experts weighed in on how providers can best respond.
One of the most important rules for agencies to follow in emergency and disaster situations involves categorizing patients based on their acuity, explained Marissa Machado, regulatory affairs and operations officer with the Texas Association for Home Care & Hospice (TAHCH).
“If someone needs to receive some skilled care in order to be able to survive … then we would make efforts to try to get to the home or work with our local emergency partners to get whatever services they need to the home,” Mechado told Home Health Care News. “We would never force a direct service provider or professional to try to get to the patient if we’ve discovered that it is an evacuation area; but in the meantime, if it’s not an evacuation area, [it’s important to have] your patients categorized … so you know which ones need more assistance or need faster triage or can go without services for a certain amount of time.”
In order for providers to successfully triage patients in an emergency setting, their acuity must be assessed on a regular basis, according to Jennifer Gibson, RN, HCS-D, COS-C, senior clinical consultant with Dallas-based Axxess, a company that specializes in providing technological solutions to home health agencies.
“You have to do that assessment on an ongoing manner so that as their acuity increases or decreases, you can change their triage code as they get better or get worse,” Gibson told Home Health Care News.
Care providers who might need to make patient visits once the storm has settled should be fully prepared, stressed Machado.
“With the lessons that we learned with Hurricane Katrina, a lot of efforts were made to ensure that individuals or patients were given tools and given information about putting together their kits, their medication and everything that they needed in case of an emergency,” she said.
Gibson also emphasized the need for agencies to plan ahead and include extra supplies of crucial materials, like wound care supplies, personal protective equipment, catheter supplies and insulin syringes for use during or after the emergency event.
She also highlighted the importance of keeping other non-medical supplies on hand.
“Staff should be trained to keep their gas tanks full and their vehicles stocked with blankets, jumper cables, bottled water and back up phone batteries and chargers in preparation for making visits during or after such disasters,” added Gibson.
A watchful eye
As the state braced for Harvey’s landfall, many home health agencies made preparations, among them AccentCare.
The Dallas-based agency was, “currently focusing on implementing its emergency preparedness plans and making sure [its] patients and staff are safe and cared for,” Greg Sheff, executive vice president and chief medical officer at AccentCare, wrote in an e-mail to Home Health Care News on Friday.
TAHCH is keeping a watchful eye on any communications from governmental authorities, particularly once the storm has settled, according to Machado.
“One of the things that we’re certainly trying to stay on top of is that we’re looped in with any presidential or secretarial authorities that are issued related to making sure that there is response to needs for the providers in the community,” she said.
Written by Carlo Calma
*Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from a previous version to reflect the current forecast regarding Hurricane Harvey.