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Recognizing importance of home health care during COVID-19

Home health care has become increasingly important during the coronavirus pandemic, as a way to keep people healthy in their own homes and out of the hospitals.

MAINE, USA — In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the image of today's superhero has transformed into the doctors and nurses working every day on the front lines to keep our communities healthy. That life-saving work isn't always happening in doctor's offices or hospitals, though -- sometimes, it occurs right in someone's home.

Home health care is becoming increasingly important, as hospitals are more tightly managing things like bed capacity and the health issues they are treating. Home health care workers say that their job provides people with the means to stay healthy in their own homes, clearing up space in hospitals -- a ramification that's integral to the fight against COVID-19.

"I'm going into people's homes and assessing how they are getting around safely, what kind of assistance they need," Hannah Bonaventura, an occupational therapist with Interim, said about her job, adding, "We really are a group that can support keeping people out of the hospital, so that the hospital isn't overwhelmed."

Home health care also includes mental health resources. 

"I actually go into the clients' homes that actually live on their own," Kelsey Gorden, a mental health worker with AngleZ Behavioral Health, explained to NEWS CENTER Maine. "They don't have 24/7 staff."

While telehealth has been a convenient alternative to in-person visits during the coronavirus pandemic, it is not an option for everyone. Gorden added that some of her clients also don't have access to devices like iPhones to provide for telehealth. That's why she is still visiting clients in-person, making sure to use personal protective equipment to keep everyone healthy.

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The process of getting PPE, though, hasn't been easy for a number of home health care agencies. Mark Petersen, the vice president of Interim, says it's been difficult to get the recognition his teams need in a time when their work is so important.

Petersen added that Interim hasn't been able to rely on the Maine CDC for PPE, so the company has turned to local businesses for support. That has included efforts like distilleries making hand sanitizer and a candle factory making face masks -- which Petersen and his colleagues say they are grateful for.

"We are having people discharged to home who are a lot more acutely ill than we would normally see in the home care setting," explained Melissa Muzrall, the Q.A./P.I. and compliance manager of Interim, on a joint Zoom call with Petersen and NEWS CENTER Maine. 

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Another challenge home health care agencies are running into during the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping enough staff members on board to respond to the community's needs. That's primarily because of the risks the job could pose and the financial perks of filing for unemployment. 

"We're competing against the fear factor that staff have and competing against the unemployment package," Petersen explained. "We're really trying to get creative with determining how to get people back to work."

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The same issue rings true for New England Home Health Care in Bangor. Vice president of operations, Christiane True, says that her team is understanding if staff members need to take time off of work because of child care or other reasons -- but there is something every employee should be made aware of. 

"If you're going to choose to be in health care, you have to understand that you are going to encounter instances where you're putting yourself at risk," True expressed.

The Maine CDC told NEWS CENTER Maine that it is making PPE available to home health care workers, primarily to their employers through county emergency management agencies. 

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.newscentermaine.com/coronavirus.

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