News Roundup March 24th, 2020

As COVID-19 headlines dominate the news cycle we round up a few articles that affect home health care workers. 

Supply shortages for home healthcare workers are being experienced around the country with clinicians having to reuse PPE (personal protective equipment) and taking on risks with patients who aren’t experiencing symptoms. In some cases, to combat shortages, communities rally by sewing homemade masks to fill supplies in the short term until N95 masks become more available.

As scarcity in the healthcare industry starts to reveal more gaps, even before COVID-19, the need for doctors and home care workers in California has already been looking at ways to address an increased workforce as the elderly population increases. 

Telehealth and telemedicine while still a growing area in US healthcare had an injection of support by Medicare. The main goal is to keep seniors safe at home while still able to assess and give proper care when an issue arises through virtual screenings with a doctor or health professional. How this translates to the range of services provided by home healthcare agencies and clinicians will become a tough question where professionals must develop new and creative solutions.  

And finally, with health-care workers being exposed to risk on a daily basis The Atlantic looks at how some institutions are mediating health and workforce management. 

From Philadelphia Inquirer

“Health-care providers are being encouraged to use N-95 masks, which are dense enough to screen out the coronavirus molecules. But cases are piling up so quickly, May said, that some of the union’s roughly 8,000 members have resorted to reusing the single-use masks. Nurses have been told to store their masks in “a brown paper bag” when not in use to keep the virus contained.”

From CNN:

“Volunteers across the nation have formed sewing groups, where they share patterns they think can best address the needs of medical workers. Using their sewing machines and piles of fabric, they work to make as many masks as they can to help hospitals in need of more supplies.”

From NBC Bay Area:

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the golden state, many California hospitals struggled to hire enough staff to keep up with the state’s growing elderly population. A 2019 report from the Future Health Workforce Commission estimates California will need to hire 4,100 more doctors and 600,000 more home care workers over the next 10 years to address the staffing shortage. But as more healthcare workers get exposed to the coronavirus and are forced to stay home on leave, those projections could soon rise.”  

From New York Times:

“Risk of serious illness from the coronavirus is greater for older people and those with underlying health problems such as lung conditions, diabetes or heart problems. Many Medicare beneficiaries are managing chronic health issues that put them at heightened risk. The telemedicine expansion is geared directly to this vulnerable group.

Current telehealth coverage under traditional Medicare is limited. It’s available in rural areas, and patients need to go to specially-designated sites for their visits. Since last year Medicare has also been paying for brief “virtual check-ins.” Tuesday’s announcement goes beyond that, allowing clinicians and hospitals to bill Medicare for visits via telemedicine that previously had to take place in person, at a medical office or facility.”

From Washington Post:

“Medicare does not reimburse home-care providers for appointments conducted remotely by phone or video, impeding efforts to keep face-to-face interactions to a minimum and practice the social distancing recommended for slowing the spread of the virus. Electronic record-keeping rules adopted several years ago further require patients to verify their caretakers’ visits using a smartphone or tablet that is passed back and forth — a potential source of contagion from a virus that can survive extended periods on hard surfaces

From The Atlantic:

Every institution is working through this. I think the simplest way to think about this is, today in the United States, if you are a health-care worker and you develop any upper-respiratory symptoms—cough, sore throat, sniffles—you’re going to be out of work for some period of time. That really puts us at risk of losing large swaths of the health-care workforce before the escalation of cases really comes. – Daniel Horn (Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital)