Nurses Bring Seniors Home in the COVID-19 Crisis
Things are changing rapidly since the COVID-19 global pandemic was declared. For the BAYADA Home Health Care office in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, their whole world seemed to change in a matter of two weeks.
Their part of northeastern Pennsylvania is best known as a Pocono Mountain vacation destination. But it’s also a growing metro area connected by interstate highway, and when out-of-staters flooded in trying to distance themselves from coronavirus, Monroe County suddenly became a COVID-19 hotspot.
The local COVID-19 crisis
Calls started coming into BAYADA from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, asking if they could help bring COVID-positive seniors home from the hospital. There had been an outbreak in their senior living community, facility staffing was down 50 percent due to virus exposure, and multiple seniors with COVID-19 needed to leave the hospital yet stay safely isolated from their loved ones and neighbors.
The pressure was on, because the only two community hospitals in the area have less than 400 beds between them—that’s all hospital beds, not just ICU. They need to provide care and discharge as quickly as possible.
“These people need home health care; they can’t live independently while they recover, but they’re still transmissible,” says BAYADA Director Michael Detwiler, “Our whole network of community services, we all were putting our heads together, but there was no model for this.” No one else was providing this kind of community care for coronavirus. They are creating the model as they go.
The same home health care is urgently needed across the country as more COVID-19 diagnoses are confirmed every day, and most known cases of COVID-19 in the US—about 72 percent—are still “active” and on isolation orders.[i]
The home health care solution
BAYADA quickly worked with the senior living facility to get two free-standing cottages ready for quarantine. Each cottage houses three seniors staffed 24/7 by two nurses per shift, day and night. Already, the state is asking for another cottage to meet growing demands.
In just two short weeks, BAYADA Clinical Manager Kimberly Riggs, RN helped nine COVID-positive seniors discharge from the hospital, and just helped three of them graduate from the quarantine cottage back to their familiar apartments. That’s an incredible volume when you consider that just one client’s assessments, care plan, and intake paperwork usually take the better part of a week. The day before this interview, Kim admitted three.
Client Services Manager Rebecca Boettger has been working just as hard to coordinate care and assemble BAYADA Nurses from across the state to provide extra staffing—one, 300 miles from home! “I just can’t say enough about how much time and hard work Becky and Kim have put into this,” Michael emphasizes. “They are heroes of this story, for sure.”
The people at the heart of this story
Kim is at the cottages almost every day providing care, training and mentoring a whole team of heroic nurses and fit testing them for N95 masks.
“These clients are short of breath, tired and fatigued from the virus, and they have conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and COPD,” Kim says. “Not only are we providing one-on-one nursing care, but we’re making sure they have their clothes, their medications, their walker ready for them. And we’re helping them regain their strength, respiratory endurance, and steadiness on their feet so they can return to being independent.”
She adds, “It’s also the human, psychosocial engagement that makes such a big difference for their well-being and recovery. After weeks in bed with no visitors, they don’t feel alone anymore. We’re keeping them active, mentally and physically. We’re helping them communicate with their loved ones.”
“I had a great interaction yesterday with a new client who has pretty advanced dementia. I helped her FaceTime with her daughter—whom she hadn’t seen in weeks—and it was beautiful. She was happy, her daughter was crying, they were cracking jokes—and she sat up and gently hugged my arm, because she thought she was hugging her daughter. So I know we’re doing the right thing and making a positive difference out there.”
Michele Silliman, LPN is a BAYADA Hospice nurse for a local sister office. She lives in Monroe County, and when she heard that local seniors needed help, she volunteered to join the COVID-19 care team. “Michele was there the very first day,” Michael tells us. “She jumped right in and she’s there regularly—really a rock-solid addition to our care team.”
Michele shares she was a little anxious at first, “But when I got all my PPE (personal protective equipment) on, I felt confident and safe—I felt fearless.”
Now she’s become an advocate for COVID-19 home care. “These seniors are fun, they’re spunky, and they’re enjoying the time they have with us nurses. We’re making them feel comfortable and decreasing their anxieties. My very first day with one client, he said to me, Y’know, the only good thing about this day is you. Well, that just touched my heart like you can’t even imagine.”
An outpouring of thanks
Family members aren’t allowed inside, but they stand outside their parents’ windows and in the parking lot, holding signs of appreciation for the nurses—and bringing them food and chocolate.
A client’s son wrote in a thank you note, “In addition to professional nursing skills and knowledge, Michele brings positive energy, creativity, and cheerfulness that becomes contagious with her clients. We are so thankful for what she’s done for our 96-year-old father, renewing his spirit as he recovers from COVID-19. She brings the sunshine.”
Another adult child wrote in a text, “Thank you, Kim, to you and your staff for taking such good care of mom!”
Making a difference in the COVID-19 response
When the risk of contagion keeps loved ones apart, BAYADA Nurses become an extension of their family, keeping them safe, comfortable, and connected. This care team even throws a little party for each client when they are cleared to return to their usual building.
“This is exactly what BAYADA was designed for, to help people get back home where they want to be,” Kim says. “It is absolutely amazing and exciting when I think about what we can do—all of us coming together to do something monumentally different in a health care crisis. It’s heartwarming to see an organization this flexible and united in a single goal.”
“I’m really grateful in this crisis that we have the opportunity to be part of the solution—for the people in our community and for our health systems, to make this situation better,” Michael remarks. “I’m humbled and proud to be a part of it, and I’m incredibly proud of all the office employees and nurses. They were the ones able to do this when no one else could.”
How you can help
Hard to find, high-priced personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection prevention supplies are urgently needed to care for vulnerable Americans like these across the country.
To help stop the spread and save lives in the COVID-19 pandemic, please consider a charitable, tax-deductible donation to the COVID-19 Home Care Response.
Visit bayada.com/care4covid or text 41444 to CARE4COVID to make a real difference today.
BAYADA Home Health Care is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people stay safe at home.
[i] Worldometer, accessed May 13, 2020, https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/