In March, some home care agencies were gearing up for COVID-19 outbreaks in their areas, contemplating tough decisions like whether they’d accept positive cases — or do everything possible to avoid exposure. Since then, many have made the decision to take those patients.
And those that have are now wearing treated cases on their sleeves like badges of honor.
“When it first started hitting, we didn’t think we could handle COVID-19,” John Bradshaw, the CEO of Georgetown Home Care, told Home Health Care News. “There was just so much fear out there.”
Washington, D.C.-based Georgetown Home Care is a Mid-Atlantic home care provider that offers personal care, respite care, senior companionship services and senior transportation services to clients in the D.C. area, as well as northern Virginia.
Whether Bradshaw thought his agency could handle COVID-19 quickly became a non-factor. D.C. began to get hit hard by the virus in late March and early April, meaning it was time for Georgetown Home care to step up or shut down.
Bradshaw first realized his in-home caregivers needed personal protective equipment (PPE). Then, he knew his organization would have to come up with a new training plan. Most importantly, Bradshaw had to convince himself — and his staff — that caring for individuals battling the COVID-19 virus was something a non-medical home care company could manage.
To keep front-line workers motivated, Georgetown Home Care would also need to properly reward employees, the CEO recognized.
“I thought, ‘We’re going to pay our staff more, and we’re going to be able to protect them,’” Bradshaw said. “Really, the issue here is that we need to appeal to their sense of their willingness to help out in the Washington, D.C., region.”
To reinforce its caregiving operations, Bradshaw hired a nurse practitioner specializing in infectious diseases. With that expert insight, he and his leadership team then set up conference calls with small groups of Georgetown’s staff to explain the situation that was in front of them.
Georgetown is now proud of the progress it has made on treating the disease and the fact that it was, at one point, the only home care company taking COVID-19 patients out of the hospital in the D.C. area, according to Bradshaw.
It has now treated close to 50 COVID-19-positive clients. Those clients were also unexpectedly critical to Georgetown’s business and bottom line.
Specifically, they played a role in offsetting the 25% to 30% revenue loss the company experienced in April.
The home care industry has not fully turned the corner on COVID-19, in general. But the stigma that came with caring for COVID-19 patients has been erased and replaced with a new sense of distinction.
HouseWorks, a Boston-based in-home care company, went through a similar line of thinking, CEO Andrea Cohen told HHCN.
If home care agencies were willing and able, she urged them to get to work and start taking patients. She said as much during a COVID-19 panel discussion back in April, too.
Backed by health care investor RAB Ventures LLC, HouseWorks also offers home-modification services. It has locations in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
HouseWorks’ operations were hit hard in May. In total, the organization ended up caring for around a dozen COVID-19-positive patients. It has been leading webinars for other operators on how to deal with patients, among other practices, for 12 weeks.
“I said, ‘Don’t judge the home care companies that don’t want to take positive patients.’ That’s fine, because some of them are smaller and can’t afford to pay up for PPE and other resources,” Cohen said. “But for those of us who were the larger companies and felt prepared or just wanted to do it, we as an industry have really come together to just help with [the situation].”
When it comes to PPE, many home care agencies have had to pay anywhere from 4 to 10 times typical market prices for gowns, masks, gloves and other supplies. To manage PPE, some have even created internal and external distribution centers, investing millions of dollars to help protect the home care workforce.
There’s undoubtedly been a change in home care’s perception of the COVID-19 crisis, Cohen noted.
“I did totally see a shift in that and I do see a lot more companies who are willing to take COVID-19 patients,” Cohen said. “And I think what’s been wonderful about that is that home care companies were sharing. I shared every single protocol that I did for COVID-19 with any home care company that wanted to see it. And it took my company a lot of time to write these protocols.”
The ability for non-medical home care companies to take on COVID-19 just like other segments of the health care continuum has furthered their common cause.
For providers like HouseWorks and Georgetown Home Care, they’re proud to say that they played a part.
“The future of home care is that home care companies are going to be asked to do more in the home than we’ve ever been asked to before,” Cohen said. “And we have to prepare for that.”
Home care operators aren’t the only ones wearing their COVID-19 experience as a badge of honor. In the home health space, for example, Amedisys Inc. (Nasdaq: AMED) touted its COVID-19 care response on a recent earnings call.
“We’ve been leveraging the fact that we’ve been good citizens and we have been open to taking COVID-19 patients since Day 1,” Amedisys President and CEO Paul Kusserow said on the call. “[That has resulted] In building up new referral sources and partners. This is paying off particularly well.”
Accentcare echoed a similar sentiment in July.
“We never stopped things like sourcing [PPE], or continuing to train our staff and ensuring that the majority of them are able to care for someone who is COVID-19-positive,” Dave Davis, AccentCare’s chief clinical innovation officer, previously told HHCN. “We’ve never slacked for a moment on any of that during the course of this.”