As a homecare provider, the best way to prepare for COVID-19 is to know the facts, make a plan, and stay calm. That may be easier said than done, but HHAeXchange is here to help guide you through the process.
The information presented in this blog post was taken from articles by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC).
Know the Basics
In order to safely plan for and protect your staff and patients from contracting and spreading COVID-19, it’s critical to understand the facts around the virus.
What is coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. COVID-19 is a new disease, caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans.
Who is most at risk?
Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes are at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19.
What are the symptoms?
In common cases of COVID-19, symptoms may include fever, cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and death. Emergency warning signs of infection include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, and bluish lips or face.
How does the virus spread?
COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 3 to 6 feet), and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Plan, Protect, & Prevent: How You Can Prepare Your Staff
Now that you know the facts around the virus, it’s time to put an action plan in place.
- Educate your staff. Make sure they understand what COVID-19 is, how it’s contracted, symptoms to look out for, and ways to prevent the spread of infection.
- Ensure your caregivers have access to the necessary equipment (gloves, hand sanitizers, cleaning products, facemasks, etc.) to protect against catching the virus and spreading infection. If your aides are traveling from one patient to another, make sure you’re doing your part to minimize the risk of cross-contamination.
- Keep your office clean. Be sure to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least once per day. Tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks are all places where germs can linger.
- Encourage sick employees to stay home. If an employee has a fever or is experiencing respiratory symptoms like cough or shortness of breath, they should not be caring for those most vulnerable. Communicate with your caregivers and ensure they understand the importance of self-quarantining.
- Adjust your sick leave policy. Now is a tough time for every business, and many caregivers may try to push through symptoms of illness if they’re struggling financially. But working when sick could have serious consequences extending far beyond your agency and patients. Ensure your sick leave policy is in-line with your state’s requirements and add more flexibility for paid time off if needed.
- Learn the signs and symptoms of burnout. Burnout is common during times of high stress, especially among caregivers and healthcare providers, and can lead to serious health problems if left untreated. Check out our blog post to learn more about caregiver burnout and the steps you can take to prevent it among your staff.
- Stay informed. Know where to turn for accurate and up-to-date information in your local community. Monitor the CDC COVID-19 website and your state and local health department websites for the latest information as the situation develops.
Take Appropriate Action as a First Identifier
As a homecare provider, it’s possible that you or your caregivers will be a first identifier of a COVID-19 case. The NAHC recently released guidance for those who suspect a patient may have COVID-19. Their recommended steps are as follows:
- Don Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Put on gloves, goggles, a mask, and gown if available. (As most caregivers do not normally use particulate respirator masks, these may need to be fit-tested).
- Assess the patient for flu-like symptoms. Ask the patient and family about friends’ and relatives’ travel and vacation plans and note any recent travel history.
- Put a mask on the patient and place the patient in a room by him or herself. Keep the patient as isolated as possible, including isolation from family pets. The room ideally should be one with a door.
- Call your agency to notify the health department of the situation and wait for guidance. Do not leave the home until clear guidance and direction have been given by the local, state or CDC representative.
- Ensure the appropriate disposal of PPE, wash your hands, and carefully disinfect any personal items you or the patient may have come into contact with.
- Staff with possible exposure to COVID-19 should be evaluated in consultation with state or local health department personnel to plan for self-quarantine.
- Every agency should develop their own policy for employee work restrictions, coordination of daily monitoring, use of paid time off and continuance of wages.
Arm Your Caregivers with Practical Tips
While it’s all too easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of this pandemic, each of us is more in control than we may think. We can all do our part to protect ourselves and others and prevent the spread of the virus, and the best way to do that is to educate ourselves, make informed decisions, and stay calm.
Here are basic health and safety tips to pass along to your staff:
- Keep your hands clean. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. It’s a hard habit to break, but it’s critical to do.
- Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow. Throw any used tissues in the trash, and immediately wash your hands.
- Prioritize self-care. Drink lots of water, eat fruits and vegetables, and take your vitamins. Sleep is critical to the health of your immune system, so try for 8 hours. Exercise is beneficial to the mind and body – bring your workout home or take it outdoors, ensuring a safe distance apart from others.
- Wear a facemask – but only when necessary. If you’re sick, you should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you’re not sick, you should only wear a facemask if you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask).
- Stay home if you’re sick, except to get medical care. The sooner you stay home and take the steps to return to 100% health, the sooner you can safely return to work.
For additional information and to view HHAeXchange’s comprehensive list of COVID-19 resources for homecare providers, visit our Resource Center.