How to Operate and Deliver Home Care in a COVID-19 World
April 16, 2020
Welcome to the new normal—now safety is just as important to clients and their families as quality.
As the coronavirus crisis continues, change may be the only constant until a vaccine is developed. And experts predict that could be well over a year away. In the meantime, the agencies that can quickly update and clearly communicate their safety protocols—to current and prospective clients, caregivers, and referral sources—will be the ones best positioned to serve new clients and employ new caregivers, now and in the future.
Are concerns about infection control and heightened safety protocols a temporary adjustment? Highly unlikely. We anticipate the devastating impact of COVID-19, especially on our older, more vulnerable population, to redefine how the best agencies deliver care for years to come.
So where do you begin to make changes that will improve safety for both your clients and your caregivers? Start by putting yourself in their place and asking, “What are you doing to protect me?” Then keep asking hard questions from their point of view. Your answers will help you spot the changes you need to make right now and illuminate where you should adjust your policies, protocols, and contingency plans to make safety a priority—long term.
Be ready to answer tough questions from clients.
In our industry, building trust has always been a requirement for converting prospects to clients. Now the trust bar is much higher. Families need to know exactly what your agency is doing to prioritize their health and well-being. Here are the key questions our current clients are asking and also what we’re hearing from prospective clients before and during care consultations.
How prepared are you to answer these questions in a way that builds trust and confidence?
- What are you doing to support my safety? What updated safety protocols have you put in place due to the coronavirus?
- What’s your policy on PPE for everyday visits? What’s your policy on PPE—for both clients and caregivers—if a client is showing flu-like symptoms?
- Do you have enough PPE right now? How will you be sure to have enough in the future?
- How do I know if your caregivers are healthy?
- What kind of training do your caregivers receive in infection control?
- How do I know your caregiver doesn’t have a fever? Do your caregivers take their temperature before each visit?
- If a caregiver is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, what will you do to notify me and help that caregiver? What is your process for allowing caregivers who were sick to return to work?
- If a caregiver cancels a scheduled visit, what do you do—is a different caregiver sent in their place?
If you’re not comfortable with your answers to any of these questions, your current and prospective clients won’t be either.
Focus on your plan for getting and keeping a sufficient supply of PPE, define your policy around when PPE is required, document it in writing, and clearly communicate your policy to both clients and caregivers on a regular basis. Then look at caregiver training, how you know if your workforce is symptom-free, and what steps you need to take if a caregiver is sick.
See our recent Coronavirus Considerations for Home Care Agencies blog post for more details.
Be ready to answer tough questions from caregivers.
Caregivers are working hard in this new world of uncertainty with potential risk of exposure every day. If they know you’re following safe practices of infection control and doing everything in your power to support their health, they may be more likely to stay with your agency. Establishing clearly defined safety protocols will also improve your chances of attracting high-quality caregivers in the future. Caregivers always have the opportunity to choose which agencies to work for—give them one more important reason to choose yours.
How would your answers to these common questions from caregivers earn their respect and trust—and help them feel supported?
- Should I go to work if I’m feeling sick? If I have a fever, how do I get tested to know if I have COVID-19?
- If a client has or might have COVID-19, do I have to take the shift?
- If a client has flu-like symptoms, how is caring for them different now?
- What PPE is required for me? What PPE is required for a client?
- What happens if a client doesn’t have the PPE I need to keep both of us safe? How do I respond and how will your agency help me?
Once you’ve got answers to these questions—and a developed comprehensive plan, be sure to document it and then communicate it with your team of caregivers. Texting is often the best method to reach caregivers. You can easily send a text message with a link to a longer policy-related document that they can read on the go.
Five best practices for our new COVID-19 world.
The spread of coronavirus is affecting many aspects of home care. Here are five additional things to consider to help you be prepared to support the health of your clients, your caregivers—and your business.
- Communicate with facilities and referral partners. Most facilities for older adults are now on lockdown. As this crisis evolves, you’ll want to share with facilities and other referral partners many of the same updated policies and procedures that you’re sharing with clients and caregivers—to show that your agency is ready now to deliver home care safely.
- Gather contacts for everyone. Be sure you have current email addresses and cell phone numbers for all your clients and your caregivers, in case you need to contact anyone (or everyone) urgently.
- Make PPE procurement part of your day. We require our Care Pros to use gloves when doing any type of personal care—toileting, bathing—for all of our clients, and we’re rolling out a policy that Care Pros wear a mask at all times in the home. We also require PPE for clients with infectious illnesses. In our new normal, the demand for PPE will continue to be high, so it’s important to get creative when it comes to sourcing PPE.
- Over-communicate with clients and caregivers. Clearly spell out your updated procedures and protocols and keep sharing them—on your website, on the phone, in written materials—with clients, caregivers, and referral sources.
- Think holistically about client well-being. Become a reliable source of information and resources for older adults and their families. For example, you can share online resources to help combat social isolation during times when most people are under shelter-in-place orders. The Institute on Aging offers a Toll-free 24-hour Friendship Line at 800-971-0016 for people 60 years and older, adults with disabilities, and those feeling isolated.
We hope this is helpful to you and your agency during these challenging and uncertain times. Remember that this isn’t just a short-term crisis—it’s also a crisis that can be a catalyst for positive change in our industry. The agencies that implement new, better strategies to protect our vulnerable population of older adults—now and in the future—will be more prepared to thrive.
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