Few of us are old enough to remember when doctors regularly made house calls, but there was a time when folks who required routine procedures and follow-up care didn’t have to leave home to get them. But times change. As the landscape of medicine evolved into the modern institutional model we know today, much of what once fell under the purview of at-home care transitioned to hospitals and skilled nursing facilities.
However, according to the experts at HealthKeeperz, a North Carolina-based family business with a mission to provide holistic, community-based healthcare services (including Medicare-certified home health, Medicare-certified hospice care, case management services, and home medical equipment and supplies), the impact of COVID-related issues on nursing homes, postoperative rehab centers, and other palliative care facilities has resulted in a shift back to in-home health care that’s been hailed not only as viable but a preferred option for a rising number of patients.
“It’s hard to feel happy and fulfilled with life right now, but it’s far from impossible,” HealthKeeperz advised on its website. “With the right mindset and support from others (including a professional if you need one), you can thrive in times of uncertainty.”
How COVID-19 Irrevocably Changed the Medical Playing Field, According to HealthKeeperz
The long-term repercussions of COVID-19 on medical personnel and patient outcomes have yet to be determined. But as the pandemic unfolded, it was soon evident to the professionals at HealthKeeperz that short-staffed traditional medical facilities were leading to protracted waiting times for those seeking care. Meanwhile, the dearth of qualified medical personnel meant some staff members found themselves pulling double and even triple duty. The inevitable burnout crisis that ensued led to even more staff reductions.
The crushing and disproportionate human toll the COVID-19 pandemic took on nursing homes — both for residents and staff — served as a wake-up call that the status quo at traditional care facilities needed to change. Per a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, “A majority (70%) of adults said that this country’s nursing facilities and other long-term facilities are doing a ‘bad job’ of maintaining adequate staffing levels.”
An article on the KFF site concluded, “Since the onset of the pandemic, more than 200,000 COVID-19 deaths have occurred among long-term care residents and staff, with most of these deaths (150,000) occurring among residents and staff in nursing facilities that are certified to receive Medicare and/or Medicaid payments (i.e., senior citizens and those dealing with ongoing health issues, per HealthKeeperz).”
Compounding the consequences of this COVID-19 healthcare crunch was the fear of coronavirus exposure at hospitals and other facilities among the elderly and other immunocompromised populations. A disturbing trend a family business such as HealthKeeperz noted was that as stories of personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages and widespread nursing home outbreaks filled the news, seniors and patients with chronic conditions began delaying or even forgoing necessary treatment rather than risk infection.
An Unexpected Upside to Dark Times
But even at the onset of the pandemic, forces in government and the medical establishment were beginning to recognize the need for a fundamental restructuring in the delivery of care for certain segments of the population. The benefits of telehealth options in conjunction with home-based care, such as that provided by North Carolina’s HealthKeeperz, showed increasing promise.
In July 2020, during the presidential campaign, as reported in Forbes, Joe Biden’s team noted, “People in nursing homes have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus, shining a bright light on the fact that many would prefer to be in a home or community-based setting.”
Home Health Care Meets the Needs of a Growing Population
While Medicare beneficiaries were already entitled to doctor-supervised at-home skilled nursing and rehabilitation services, many were simply not taking advantage of the benefits. Per Forbes, “a wide range of services … can be delivered in a patient’s home, including injections, postoperative and chronic wound care, rehabilitation, physical therapy, intravenous or nutrition therapy, etc. These services can be a lifeline for vulnerable patients, including the Medicare population, at increased risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19 and more likely to suffer from chronic comorbidities — a potentially deadly combination.”
According to AARP, “The number of Americans age 65 and up is projected to double from 40.2 million in 2010 to 88.5 million in 2050. The people in the oldest age bracket (85 and up) will nearly quadruple in that same period, from 5.8 million to 19 million.” As this population segment ages, we can expect a corresponding rise in the demand for geriatric healthcare services. When home care providers such as HealthKeeperz administer palliative care in conjunction with a patient’s physician, the protocol is not without its costs. However, the combination can ultimately prove more cost-efficient than traditional forms of in-office care.
“The use of telehealth to provide more timely access to care can help both patients and their family caregivers by decreasing the burden and cost of transportation, lessen travel to and from a provider’s office, and help patients remain in their homes longer” notes AARP. “Telehealth may prevent unnecessary visits to the emergency department and may help to avoid hospital admissions and readmissions.”
The Pandemic as a Learning Experience
As dark and troubling as the pandemic may have been, the folks at HealthKeeperz firmly believe there’s a valuable takeaway we all can share. “We’re all learning a lot right now,” HealthKeeperz observes. “We’re learning what it feels like to be alone with ourselves, what is truly important to us, and how much we miss the people in our lives when we can’t spend time with them. Now is the time to reevaluate our priorities and renew our gratitude for others.”
As cost-effective as in-home care may prove to the financial bottom line, its benefits for the mental well-being of individuals and others who require regular ongoing treatment are something to be grateful for and cannot be measured in terms of value. One of the most profound lessons staff members at a family business like HealthKeeperz have learned through their more than 50 years of experience is that as we grow to find ourselves in circumstances that no longer allow us to do everything we might once have, familiar surroundings often serve as a balm to the soul. And being able to preserve a sense of personal autonomy and dignity simultaneously. Well, that is priceless.