In response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the Home Care Association of America (HCAOA) has launched a COVID-19 medical advisory council to help its members navigate the pandemic.
While home health providers and other health care organizations have received support from state and federal policymakers, non-medical home care organizations have largely been left to fend for themselves. As a result, many private-pay, non-medical providers have turned to the community over competition.
HCAOA’s new advisory council — officially launched on March 26 — is yet another reflection of that strategy.
“As we began addressing COVID-19, we realized that now more than ever, our members were in need of some additional information,” Vicki Hoak, executive director of HCAOA, told Home Health Care News. “This meant receiving medical updates on the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance, making sure that we have the most recent COVID-19 medical information, and helping our members communicate with their staff and clients.”
Founded in 2002, HCAOA represents nearly 3,000 companies that employ more than 500,000 caregivers.
Currently, the Washington, D.C.-based trade group’s new medical advisory council includes five members from a range of in-home care organizations.
Members include Interim HealthCare CEO Jennifer Sheets, Always Best Care VP Sheila Davis, Comfort Keepers Operations Manager Barb Gellin and ComForCare Director of Clinical Services Jake Baker.
Dr. Steven C. Fox, co-founder and medical director at Wellspring Personal Care, is also a member of the council. Chicago-based Wellspring Personal Care is a private-duty home care agency that provides non-medical personal care services, skilled nursing services and end-of-life support.
For HCAOA, the medical advisory council is especially important because the majority of its members provide non-medical, supportive services, Fox told HHCN. That means they likely specialize in caring for individuals with chronic conditions or multiple, low-acuity illnesses, but not necessarily something like the novel coronavirus.
“I’ve always had the belief that if you’re providing care to high-risk individuals who are elderly with comorbidities, like it or not, you’re doing some form of health care,” he said. “In this case, no agency is immune to potentially having to deal with COVID-19. Guidance and recommendations have to be clinically sound.”
As of Tuesday, there were 177,452 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S., according to a Johns Hopkins database. The global count has surpassed 800,000 cases.
Due to the insidious nature of the virus and the focus on social isolation, the aftermath of COVID-19 will likely have a long-lasting impact on the home care industry and health care in general, according to Fox.
“This changes caregiving forever,” Fox said. “It’s not just going to end in three or two months. We’re going to have to stay alert and aware because we are going to have secondary peaks in this. In some respects, it’s going to be great preparation for the next infectious illness that comes along.”
Currently, HCAOA’s medical advisory council is focused on limiting the risk of exposure to the virus and the spread of infection among home care providers’ clients and caregivers.
That’s becoming increasingly difficult — and costly — for all health care organizations, as personal protective equipment is often hard to secure.
“No matter what this group does, we are not going to establish the standard of care that is beyond what guidelines and recommendations are for,” Fox said. “What we intend to do is help define the duty of care for all of our home care providers. This means we will try to address foreseeable issues and events.”
Keeping both clients and caregivers safe is critical, as clients refusing services has become more common in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and PPE scarcity.
In New York, for example, almost half of surveyed agencies say they have experienced patients or family members refusing entry of home care personnel, according to recent outreach conducted by the Home Care Association of New York State (HCA-NYS).
“Our current clients are very fearful about having someone come into their home,” Hoak said. “We as a home care provider must assure them that we are doing whatever we can to make certain that before a direct care worker knocks on their door, we are monitoring them for symptoms and making sure they are in good standing.”
For now, sending HCAOA members guidance and recommendations is at the top of the medical advisory council’s agenda.
Looking ahead, the council may also look to provide further education through webinars and other avenues, according to Hoak.