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Seniorgram: The Home Care Workforce

Barbara Bodzin, Executive DirectorBarbara Bodzin, Executive DirectorCelebrating the Unsung Heroes of COVID-19

The ravages of this pandemic are far reaching with all of us touched in some way, either personally or professionally. Front-line health care workers, especially those working in care centers like nursing facilities, emergency departments, and intensive care units, are putting themselves in harm’s way each and every day as they honor their commitment to serve for the sake of their patients’ wellbeing, despite the risk to their own health. A true sacrifice.

Home care workers don’t have the luxury of caring from a distance.

In response to their commitment, each day thousands of individuals around the world appear on their terraces and porches or call out their windows to thank and celebrate the health care workers and the first responders. It is an inspiring display of appreciation that they so richly deserve. Another subset of care providers deserving of accolades are the unsung heroes entering people’s homes. They are home care workers, recognized as health care workers by some, who have not received the support and acknowledgement they, too, deserve.

We’ve seen certain adjustments in the care field as we comply with social distancing - more regular use of video assessments, telehealth services and deliveries of meals, groceries, and other goods and services. Unfortunately this model doesn’t apply to personal care services requiring direct contact. Home care workers don’t have the luxury of caring from a distance.

Home care workers are welcomed into residences, many times like family members, to provide essential services so that elders and individuals with disabilities may maintain their dignity and independence. The tasks they help consumers with - bathing, dressing, getting out of bed, meal preparation, laundry, and shopping - are critical for anyone to maintain their health and safety. Trust is built and relationships grow with this unique and beautiful type of support.

Since home care workers are currently limited to providing only essential services, as an alternative, family members are being asked to provide care to limit the number of individuals coming into the home. However, many do not have family to turn to, or family members, themselves, could be potential unwitting transmitters of the virus. Despite precautionary measures, some consumers are turning away their services out of fear of contracting the virus. This could mean going without a meal, a bath, and getting to the toilet. These are serious issues concerning wellbeing and dignity.

With a limited supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and use of standard infection control practices, workers are doing everything they can to stay well, keep consumers safe, and avoid spreading the virus. Yet workers and care recipients alike are concerned about transmission of COVID-19 from one home to the next. Home care workers including nurses, home health aides, and personal care attendants, are self screening and also calling consumers before they visit to determine if anyone in the household is symptomatic. Courageous workers are designated to work solely with those who are symptomatic, presumptive, or COVID-19 positive as another defensive measure to avoid spread.

The home care workforce is in dire need of greater support in testing for exposure to COVID-19 to continue to provide their essential services. As tests become available, we’re seeing that care providers from in-patient hospital and facility settings are getting preferential attention. Testing remains limited in our communities and needs to be more accessible. Negative tests provide greater confidence and acceptance of the care an individual will receive at home. The additional benefit of keeping a consumer at home, with services intact and out of the hospital, is to free up capacity where beds are limited and exposure is potentially greater.

We’re seeing an uptick in inquiries for LifePath services for those who are being discharged from care centers but are still in need of rehabilitation services. Nursing facilities, sadly, are hot spots for the spread of the virus at this time, and home care services are a viable alternative for comparable care.

As dedicated home care workers navigate the dangers and effects of this virus, they take the risks because they prioritize the independence of others. For that, they deserve your praise and thanks. If a home care worker comes into your home or the home of someone you love, tell them what their dedication means to you and your family members. Or simply cheer or clap for them out your window or from your porch when you see them. Make it known that they are unsung heroes of this community.