As our nation confronts the COVID-19 outbreak, the home health community is working aggressively to protect patients, home health care providers, and the communities we serve. Coordinating with the government, as well as other healthcare providers, Partnership members are supporting a unified front in efforts to treat patients and contain the virus. Following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the home health community has been screening patients and the home health professionals who care for them to mitigate risk of exposure.
As an industry of highly skilled professionals caring for vulnerable populations with multiple chronic conditions, home healthcare agencies are uniquely qualified to treat individuals diagnosed with COVID-19. With more Americans becoming vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, home health represents a safe and available care setting for at-risk populations.
Recognizing that home health can play a major role, The Partnership released a set of recommendations regarding needed waivers and regulatory relief to expand access to home health, ensure patient safety, and streamline and eliminate any barriers to fully engaging the nation’s home health provider community.
As the outbreak continues to develop, the Partnership is working with the Administration and Congress to identify actionable measures for expanding home health under current federal regulations and suggesting specific policy changes to address these issues.
The Partnership is asking for regulatory relief and clarification in the following areas:
Telephonic & Telehealth Visits
Home health nurses and clinicians need to be deployed and have flexible use of technology, like telephones and telehealth units, to monitor existing patients who want to limit anyone (including clinicians) from visiting their home and for COVID-19 patients needing health care monitoring by trained clinicians. Examples of tele-monitoring include monitoring blood pressure and other vitals, oxygen levels, weight, temperature, medication management and patient education. CMS should immediately consider telephonic visits a part of the care plan, as well as allow greater flexibility in the use of telehealth visits in a patient’s plan of care.
Current regulation requires home health patients to first secure homebound status, yet it is unclear whether patients who have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having COVID-19 would be considered homebound. Furthermore, Medicare requires face to face visits between doctors and patients prior to receiving home health. PQHH has asked CMS to ensure that a patient seeking treatment for COVID-19 and patients in quarantine should be considered presumptively meeting the homebound and face to face requirements. This is critical to ensure that COVID-19 patients are effectively monitored in the home and are not seeking unnecessary treatment in hospitals, clinics, physician offices and other settings.
Personal Protective Equipment
PPE supplies are running low but are critical to preventing exposure during home health visits of COVID-19 positive or quarantined patients that could harm home health workers or spread the virus to other homebound patients. Home health agencies are looking to CMS and the CDC for guidance on how to maximize the use of PPE, ensure that PPE stockpile availability includes home health providers, and are also pressing for federal agencies to consider supply chain interventions in order to ensure continued access to PPE.
You can help improve access to home health and ensure patient safety by sending an email to your lawmakers, CMS Administrator Seema Verma, and HHS Secretary Alex Azar.
If you would like to speak to a Partnership representative or member of the home health community about the sector's response to the COVID-19 crisis, please contact Ellen Almond at firstname.lastname@example.org.