As we age, activities of daily living can become more challenging, especially while living with chronic diseases like diabetes, dementia or congestive heart failure. Senior living communities, such as assisted or independent living facilities and skilled nursing facilities, provide older adults the opportunity to age in place while still receiving much-needed care.
Home health and hospice agencies are able to provide care wherever the patient calls home – including patients who live in community settings. Encompass Health’s home health and hospice agencies use a Community Care Program for residents living in communities that takes a preventative approach to care to help patients maintain their independence.
“We’ve seen great patient outcomes through our Community Care Program,” said Kasi Hedt, vice president of specialty programs at Encompass Health – Home Health & Hospice. “We get to see and care for patients for an extended period of time and therefore get to build that patient-clinician relationship.”
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many senior living communities restricted access to outside visitors to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and protect the high-risk elderly population. This meant that residents were unable to continue receiving home care.
“We started to see a functional decline in our patients living in these communities,” said Hedt. “Patients were experiencing more falls and we also saw some depression due to social isolation.”
As a result, the home health and hospice teams at Encompass Health have continued to build on the tenets of the Community Care Program and adapted their care practices to best meet the needs of residents.
With help from community staff, the teams are is now utilizing distance visits that take place outside, such as in the community’s courtyard or the patient’s patio, to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Encompass Health is also coordinating with community staff to provide telehealth visits when applicable to limit the number of clinicians in the community to help minimize the risk of potential spread.
Another creative way the Encompass Health team is caring for community patients in the home setting is through the use of devices that have been nicknamed “COVID cubes.” These devices allow patients to safely visit with their care team, physicians and loved ones.
The home health team in Amarillo, Texas, is one of many Encompass Health branches utilizing the devices after struggling to find a safe and effective way to care for community patients.
“The idea first came to Shelly Gilbreth, one of our area managers who has a long-standing background working with memory care and community patients,” said Katelyn Payne, branch director for Encompass Health.
Determined to find a way to help these patients, Gilbreth started a fundraiser online to build the devices for local senior living communities. She received support from local community members who were willing to donate and offer their skills to help build the devices.
“We’ve had many physicians voice how thankful they are to see their patients in person and be able to provide better care to them,” said Gilbreth. “But the biggest response has been from family members – they have been so grateful to see and talk to their loved ones, which has provided them comfort and peace of mind knowing that they are being taken care of and are happy.”
By utilizing new methods to adapt to current patient needs, the Encompass Health branch has seen a positive outcome among many community residents.
“Once we started getting creative in the ways we deliver care to our communities, we quickly saw a change in our patients’ conditions,” said Hedt. “Our priority is to continue keeping community residents and staff safe to ultimately help us achieve our goal of helping patients age in place and safely remain in their communities longer.”