Navigating the COVID-19 public emergency health emergency is causing private-duty home care providers to become more creative when it comes to problem solving.

Largely left to fend for themselves, home care providers have had to hustle for personal protective equipment, take crash courses on new technology tools and experiment with different ways to reward their front-line staff. In some instances, they’ve done so while being shut out of facilities they normally help staff and with workers dealing with personal challenges back home.

While taxing, the newfound resourcefulness is something that will help home care providers re-envision home care moving forward and create change even after the coronavirus ends. That’s according to Caring Senior Service CEO Jeff Salter, who discussed home care’s future on Wednesday during a webinar hosted by the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC).

“Going through this crisis and trying to look further ahead at what the business will be like when we come out of this, we found that some solutions we put in place will end up being long-term [benefits],” Salter said.

Since early March, home care providers have taken important steps to protect both clients and caregivers.

For Caring Senior Service, this had meant locking down screening tools to help mitigate exposure risk.

“We had to really look at our technology and try to find solutions, or try and build solutions very quickly,” Salter said. “We identified, right away, that things like screening caregivers before each shift would be important.”

Founded in 1991, Caring Senior Service is a San Antonio, Texas-based home care company that employs 1,800 caregivers. The company has 46 locations across the U.S.

Specifically, Caring Senior Service implemented a screening process where caregivers receive a text message an hour before each shift begins. The message asks caregivers to answer a series of questions to ensure safety.

“This process is much like the ones many of us use when we are going into a place of business or have any kind of medical appointment,” Salter said. “They have you fill out a form to make sure you haven’t had contact with someone with COVID or that you don’t have COVID. We were able to implement that quickly.”

Caring Senior Service also leaned heavily on video calls for its current team. It likewise adopted video communication to assist with its hiring efforts, according to Salter.

Currently, nearly all home-based care organizations face the hurdle of trying to hire large numbers of new caregivers while some background checkers are unavailable and most onboarding trainers remain remote.

“How do you do the usual business without being able to be in close proximity to someone,” he said. “Using video, we were able to start doing interviews. When we found a candidate that we liked, we sent them a link … and minizined contact. This will be a great technology to use in the future.”

Additionally, as the public health emergency continues, Salter has found that there is an openness to new ideas.

“I found that some of the things we were pushing and promoting in the past that were often met with skepticism now have people [saying], ‘Wow that does work,’” he said. “I can actually do a video interview and get to the point of hiring without meeting [in person].”

Similarly, Always Best Care has ramped things on up when it comes to telecommunications and creative thinking.

“We really had to open up those lines of communication,” Sheila Davis, senior vice president of area operations at Always Best Care, said during the Wednesday webinar. “It was very vital and important to establish those platforms. Everybody … has had their fill of GoToMeeting and Zoom meetings, but it has been vital in staying connected, not only to caregivers and office staff but to clients as well.”

Always Best Care is one of the largest home care franchise companies in the country. The company currently operates across 209 territories in 30 states.

For Always Best Care, infection control and education have been at the forefront of the company’s COVID-19 response.

“Really getting in there and educating all of our caregivers on everything that we could get our hands on about COVID-19,” Davis said.

The company, in particular, focused on training its caregivers on what COVID-19 symptoms to look for and proper safety precautions.

Looking ahead, Davis believes infection control will no longer take a backseat for home care providers.

“In hospitals and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), infection control was always at the foremost of their regulatory processes. But when it came to home care, it was kind of a backburner process,” she said. “I don’t think that will be the scenario going forward. We are going to have to really up our game. A lot of the PPE is going to stay and will be part of ongoing operations.”

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