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Perspective: more patients struggling to care for themselves at home

Perspective: more patients struggling to care for themselves at home

The Coronavirus has been a public health risk in the United States for over 2 years. The knock-on effects of the pandemic have been widespread from economics to education, employment to health. In the early days of the pandemic, post-acute health care providers learned to deliver care in new, safer ways. We took on the challenge of helping COVID patients to recover and rebuild their strength and stamina. We worked with patients struggling with symptoms many months after their initial infection. Now, 2 years on, we’re dealing with a new problem: patients who are coming to us because they are struggling to care for themselves at home; patients who are weak, deconditioned, and a risk to themselves at home.

Why are we seeing this now? There are several reasons why this could be happening, and not all of them are related to the pandemic. To be sure, there are still people including many elderly and immune-compromised individuals, who are reluctant to go to a medical facility for fear of getting ill. These people are struggling at home with a chronic condition, illness, or injury, and only seek medical care when they are already quite ill. In these cases, intensive nursing care and physical rehabilitation are often necessary to help these patients return home safely. Additional nursing, rehabilitation, and non-medical services may also be necessary when they return home.

The fear of COVID has created an isolation of sorts for people. Many have opted to stay home and forgo the trip to the grocery store or the mall, thus eliminating what little exercise they were used to leading to debility over such a long period of time.

There are other reasons why we are seeing patients struggling to manage their health at home. Being discharged from the hospital too early is a reality for nearly 1 in five patients, according to one study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center that researched 32,000 hospital discharges. The latest COVID-19 variant, Omicron, has pushed hospitals locally and nationally to the brink, placing pressure on staff and beds. Being discharged from the hospital too early can slow a patient’s recovery and in the worst case, result in avoidable hospital readmission.

In addition to being discharged too early, I am seeing patients who are not receiving the post-acute care they need. Perhaps you have just had surgery? If you live alone, does being discharged straight to home mean returning to a house where you need to climb stairs to use the bathroom? Perhaps you have no one to prepare meals for you or ensure that you take your medication correctly? If the hospital is counting on your family members to care for you when you return home, ask yourself, do they have the time, resources, or physical strength to do that?

Although it is natural to want to return home, often an intermediary step – for example, inpatient or transitional rehabilitation or a short-term skilled nursing stay – is necessary for you to be able to recover sufficiently before returning home? There, you will get more intensive physical rehabilitation, nutrition support, and even emotional support to return to the best level of health that is possible for you.

Discharge planning can be a complex process and one that can be overwhelming for the patient, especially amid an illness. To return home, you need to make sure that you can handle everyday tasks. Can you keep food down? Can you get up and move a small distance? Can you prepare meals or is there someone who can reliably do that for you? Do you understand your medications or how to care for yourself following your illness? If you don’t feel safe returning home, say something. Ask what other services or options there are for you. If possible, ask a family member to be there for your discharge planning meeting to help you sort through the information and make the best decision for your health.

About the Author: Kathy Stella, RN, BSN, CRRN, is Assistant Vice President of Admissions and Case Management at Allied Services.

Find care for people struggling at home

After dealing with an injury or chronic illness, it is common for people to experience difficulty with everyday tasks. Prolonged bed rest, inactivity, illness, or an injury can lead to deconditioning and can affect your balance, endurance, mobility, energy, and mood. These changes can make taking care of yourself, moving around your home, and enjoying recreational activities difficult.

Rehabilitation medicine specifically addresses the problems of mobility and self-care to help you move better, maintain your independence, avoid re-hospitalization, and live safely at home. Allied Services Rehabilitation Medicine Center makes finding the right care for you or a loved one easier and faster.

No referral is needed. Simply call 570-348-1211 today to get started.