This National Home Care and Hospice Month, Iredell Health System joins home healthcare organizations nationwide to honor home health professionals for the remarkable difference they make in the lives of the patients and families they serve.
While the holiday is a month to recognize traditional home care professionals who help elderly people age at life’s end, it’s also a time to recognize newer home health professionals that play a more transitional role helping patients return to living outside the hospital.
Linda Thompson, the director of Iredell Home Health, clarified how the care her agency provides differs from traditional home care:
“The wording is similar, but they’re two different things,” she said. “A lot of people think what we do is act as sitters. But that’s not what we do. We are there to help the patient transition back into being independent or back to where their caregiver can help them. We might go in and give baths two or three times a week with a home aide for a period of time until they’re able to manage to get back on their feet. It’s a different service at a different point.”
Iredell Home Health is designed for a lesser acuity of care, and its nurses are on-call for patients to be their first point of contact. A Home Health nurse can visit the patient or contact a physician to see the patient. They teach, answer questions, administer wound care, and help manage medication such as antibiotics.
Based in Iredell County but branching out to all of the surrounding counties, Iredell Home Health staff made more than 25,000 visits to patients last year. The agency’s number of patients has steadily grown the last two years and is now around 240. At times, the patient total has risen to 300 during wintertime, and the department is staffed to manage that number of patients and more.
The Home Health team includes registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, home aides, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and social workers. As the number of patients fluctuates, Iredell Home Health partners with the Iredell Health System’s Rehabilitation Services to provide patients with cross-trained therapists.
Undergoing a procedure, such as a hip replacement, can be a life-altering experience for a patient, and returning home can be overwhelming. But Iredell Home Health nurses help patients get completely ready to be living at home, including teaching patients and caregivers how to use medical equipment.
“Our whole goal is to try to keep them out of the hospital,” Thompson said.
On computers within the agency, Iredell Home Health nurses’ dashboards display the data of their patients along with updates, including the patient’s weight, blood pressure, oxygen level, and heart rate. The nurses monitor each of their patients daily and check for stability. So while a figure of a patient’s data might not seem problematic to a medical professional looking at it for the first time, Home Health nurses who are frequently monitoring their patients can recognize gradual changes and better analyze fluctuations.
If Iredell Home Health team members feel that a patient needs attention, they will send a nurse to visit the patient.
Each week, Iredell Home Health sends a week’s worth of data to each patient’s physician which includes all the care given by team members to those patients and what they discussed.
While visiting patients in their home, Iredell Home Health nurses help patients identify all medicines and supplements they are taking. They help patients stop taking unnecessary medications before safely disposing of them.
Iredell Home Health nurses help determine what each patient can effectively do in their home. They teach patients how to do things more safely. While in patient homes, they are able to judge the house’s layout and check for hazards, such as clutter.
Thompson describes advantages home healthcare provides to motivate patients to follow medical care plans:
“We were in the home of a patient recovering from a knee injury who had a wall of golf trophies and memorabilia. When we talked about his goals, his motivation we could see plain and simple,” she said. “Or there may be a little dog guarding the patient with their life, and the patient’s world is that little dog. You’ve got the motivation you need to encourage the patient.”
Iredell Home Health staff typically see new patients three or four times a week; they see high-risk patients daily. The number of visits gradually decrease, and after 30-60 days patients are usually where they need to be.
“We make sure we can go out and spot whatever is going on and how we can adjust. We communicate with the doctor. We provide the right care for the right people at the right time,” Thompson said.
Photo: Iredell Home Health staff (some staff members not pictured).