The coronavirus pandemic has had some far-reaching impacts on the American way of life, to say the very least. Telemedicine has become even more important as a tool for delivering medical care, in-home care has been altered significantly, and the social interactions between people have become much more scrutinized and in most cases, limited to family members and others who are willing to observe social distancing requirements. In Tupelo and elsewhere in the country, senior home care will be changed in ways that are likely to persist long into the future, perhaps even forever. Here are some of the ways that those changes are already being felt by in-home caregivers, and the people they provide care for.
Greater demand for healthcare services
Even before the pandemic struck, there was a significant shortage of healthcare workers in this country, with not enough in-home caregivers to provide the services needed by the soaring number of senior citizens who had reached retirement age. There are now many more thousands of elderly persons impacted by the coronavirus, given the fact that this age group is the one which has been hit hardest by the disease.
Even those seniors who don’t require hospitalization will have to be monitored closely at home and will need more services than at any other time of their lives. Many seniors who might have opted for hospitalization will now choose to stay at home, so as to avoid the possibility of contracting the disease. Ironically, at the same time that there is an increased demand for home healthcare, there is also a much higher risk of healthcare workers becoming infected themselves, and being subtracted from the working pool.
Because workers are frequently required to make several visits to different homes in a day or in a week, they run an increased risk of exposure to coronavirus and may become ill themselves. Given the fact that the average age of a home healthcare worker is 49, and that one in four in-home caregivers lacks personal health insurance, they are at enormous risk of exposure.
How in-home care will be delivered
At present, the vast majority of home healthcare must be delivered in a hands-on manner, i.e. the in-home caregiver makes a physical visit to their charge and delivers whatever services or care is needed. Already though, the pandemic has driven a change to this paradigm, which is likely to be expanded in the coming years, and that involves care via telemedicine.
This approach has now been approved as a valid method for providing home health care, with non-physician personnel having the capability and the authority to order services for home health. In the near future, it can be expected that virtual training for in-home caregivers will be broadened on a large scale, so that in-person visits can be minimized. Even when the pandemic dies down, and personal contact is not such an issue, telehealth will provide a great solution to the shortage of care personnel.
More training for home care personnel
With shortages of medical personnel reaching critical stages, home healthcare workers are being asked to do even more than in the past, and many of these new tasks were once performed by skilled personnel like nurses and LPN’s. In order to provide adequate skilled care to in-home patients and charges, personnel will have to be more adequately trained, so they can safely and effectively perform all these new tasks.
People who have been laid off from other industries hit hard by the pandemic, can be re-trained to become healthcare providers, if given the time and proper instruction. Of course, once these individuals do acquire those new skills, they would need to be compensated for that greater level of expertise, so it is entirely likely that the cost of home healthcare will also see a rise in the near future.
At some point, it is almost inevitable that the federal government will have to become involved in the home healthcare industry. As mentioned above, there is likely to be a significant increase in the cost of home health care in the near future, as workers become more skilled and must then be better compensated. These jobs must be upgraded to become full-time positions, with benefits and sick leave offered by employers so as to encourage enrollment with a company.
But most healthcare agencies simply lack the funds to provide this kind of compensation to their employees, so it will likely become necessary for federal funding to help solve the crisis. When federal funding becomes part of the picture with home healthcare, there may also be some level of federal oversight involved, since they would want to protect their investment. When that happens, there could be standardization at a much higher level than ever before, and home healthcare would become more nearly uniform throughout the country.