In their response to the COVID-19 crisis, home care providers have been forced to make more changes to their daily practices in the last two months than they could’ve imagined at the beginning of 2020.
Indeed, the last several weeks have been a whirlwind, leaving little time to pause and consider all that has happened, nor to consider what it will all mean for the industry moving forward.
But enough time has passed to allow for some reflection. And while home care strategies have differed in some areas due to unique challenges, most providers agree that home care has been an essential part of the nation’s coronavirus mitigation tactics.
Andy Tysinger — COO of Seniorcorp, a private-duty in-home care provider that offers services to seniors in parts of Virginia — said the “initial shock” from the coronavirus hit his business in early March.
“We were scrambling to acquire more PPE,” said Tysinger, who shared his experience on Friday during a webinar hosted by home-based care technology company ClearCare. “[We were] quickly changing our office staff environment and shifting towards working from home. We’re in a hurricane-prone area, so luckily we had some of the [disaster response] in place.”
While Seniorcorp was lucky to have certain protocols in place due to natural emergencies frequently occurring in its geographic footprint, that didn’t completely shield the company from all the pitfalls tied to the coronavirus.
Like many other home care providers, it was faced with issues related to remote operations and acquiring the right resources.
According to a recent ClearCare survey — which netted over 700 responses, including 250 from agency owners in the U.S. and Canada — the biggest challenges have been acquiring PPE, a dip in hours and scheduling mix-ups.
“That first week that I was out there securing PPE, it was a little hairy,” Julianne Roth, president of Companions For Living, said on the webinar. “We still haven’t received any hand sanitizer — we’re still trying to stack some of that up.”
Companions For Living is a Connecticut-based holistic provider of companion, homemaker, personal care and re-engagement services.
Of the survey participants, 45% were independent agencies and 55% were network affiliates.
In addition to challenges, the ClearCare survey also highlighted how U.S. home care providers are launching new service lines in light of the coronavirus.
Among survey respondents, 38% said they have initiated grocery shopping services, with 30% now offering medication pickup for clients. Another 25% said they are also offering additional transportation services to help clients, who might otherwise be isolated as they socially distance themselves.
“We’ve really had to retool almost every part of the business that we’re used to working in — every part has been impacted,” Tysinger said. “From the front end with community relations and marketing … [to] our intake and assessments [operations], which are now remote. That’s been a bit of an adjustment for us and the families.”
Industry-wide, providers are likewise shifting toward remote care and telemonitoring offerings, according to the ClearCare survey.
About 18% of respondents said they offered remote patient monitoring prior to COVID-19, but almost half plan to provide such services moving forward. Similarly, slightly above 12% of providers said they conducted video conferencing prior to COVID-19; now, more than 54% said they may provide it moving forward.
Despite the turbulence across the entire industry, there has been a silver lining to the bumps that have come with the coronavirus, according to Tysinger.
“I think the biggest impact to us has been how technology has allowed us to very quickly pivot different parts of the business and maintain operations without experiencing too much disruption,” he said. “It’s kind of forced us to take advantage of technology — which we already had in some cases — and [then implement] some new [technology] in other areas.”
Many providers believe that they’ll be better off because of the changes that COVID-19 has forced them to make.
They also are hopeful that they’ve proved through the crisis that they deserve a seat at the health care table.
“I think that the future is bright for home care,” Roth said. “That starts with the fact that everyone else in the health care continuum has a much clearer picture of the value that we bring to the table. Because of that, we now have a seat at the table, where perhaps we didn’t in the past. We’ve demonstrated our value — that we’re able to keep people home and provide care where it is safest.”
Additionally, Roth said, doctors are more eager to get and keep people out of the hospital. That, in turn, has allowed home care companies to step up and show their worth.
“We offer the best support for the people who are either going home or staying home as a result of the [COVID-19 crisis] — it’s the safest place for them to be right now,” she said.
In general, the isolation brought on with stay-at-home orders may open the public’s eyes to the benefits of home care services — and specifically the socialization offerings.
“Now that we’ve all experienced that [isolation] to some degree, [people] have a much greater feeling of sympathy for those that don’t have a choice but to always be isolated,” Roth said. “We help alleviate some of that isolation.”
The adjustments have been tough, sure. But if home care providers can shine in an otherwise dark period of time, they could reap the benefits of their hard work down the line.
“In the future … I think that home is going to be a much more attractive alternative, when people may not have considered that before,” Roth said. “I think that home care is going to be much more on the forefront.”