We at Visiting Nurse Service & Hospice of Suffolk (VNSHS) are learning together to navigate the uncertain course of the COVID-19 crisis, and we seek to help all deal with its impact through prevention, care of those infected, and recovery to maximum health. We adjusted to rapidly changing albeit often conflicting information with enhanced care practices to meet the demand for home care among our neighbors hospitalized with active infection. We protected our staff with adequate Personal Protective Equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns, reinforced infection control practices, and augmented home visits with virtual visits that afforded the protected equivalent of a “face time” encounter with a patient and their family. Once COVID incidence grew to the point where hospital beds were filled with COVID patients VNSHS saw an increase of referrals from local physicians and patients themselves, bypassing the hospital emergency rooms where they feared exposure to the virus that put already compromised health at increased risk. The focus of referrals to VNSHS from hospitals increased for after care of COVID patients discharged post hospital stay or directly from the emergency room having not been admitted at all.
In the absence of effective treatment or a vaccine, our goal is to provide supportive care from prevention to recovery. For people who have been sick with the virus we teach breathing exercises with incentive spirometers to improve compromised lung function, review medications that may include addition of blood thinners, check temperature as a symptom of recurring infection, administer oxygen in concert with monitoring O2 saturation, supply physical therapy to improve muscle strength and overall function of weakened conditions, offer CDC based information about the virus, and instruct all for safe care in the home.
With schools and businesses closed over the past two months, spread of the virus has been contained as reflected in data of declining new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths reported daily, to the point where we now begin to cautiously lift “stay at home” directives. Testing is more available to enable contact tracing of new cases, and in the absence of an effective treatment or vaccine, our most effective tools lie in best infection control practices.
At VNSHS we have been on the “front lines” in high risk environments interacting directly with positive COVID persons or those whose infection might be pre-symptomatic, but we also have been practicing meticulous infection control using full Personal Protective Equipment that always includes a mask. Having antibody tested many of our own employees, our focused sample revealed that only those who initially tested positive COVID themselves later tested positive for antibodies once recovered. The tests of the remaining majority of VNSHS employees who were never COVID positive or sick at all revealed no antibodies present. This is a message to all – our experience of not contracting COVID even in the absence of antibodies is a testament to the effectiveness of the only protective tool we have to date. As you venture out in the days ahead, I can only encourage all to practice personal best infection control and keep social distance, and please, wear a mask!
THANK YOU ALL AND BE WELL!
Linda Taylor, MA, BSN, RN
Chief Executive Officer