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Home health care aides who are being called upon to care for coronavirus patients by relatives who cannot safely do so themselves say a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) is putting them at risk. One natural survey found nearly half of the home health care agencies are experiencing a shortage of necessary equipment.
“Forty-five percent have less than 10 days of PPE, but 42 percent are serving COVID-19 patients,” Bill Dombi, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, told Fox News. “The best remark that I got with somebody who said we don’t have the necessary face shields, so we’re cutting open soda bottles and using those as makeshift face shields.”
Dombi said many are resorting to a "beg and borrow" approach, appealing to nail salons, tattoo parlors, and construction sites in order to access masks or makeshift gowns.
Dombi also said the industry is seeing a shift in the patient population, with an uptick in COVID-19 positive patients requiring care and a downward trend in those who would typically need assistance after elective surgeries.
“We’re also seeing a growing number who are refusing care because of the fear of having the virus transmitted from the caregiver to them,” he said.
But the caregivers, he said, are not letting shortages stop them from providing critical care patients require. He also added that companies are reaching out on a local basis to attempt to acquire PPE, but that most find themselves “either at the end of the line or close to the end of the line, and not having any allocation of PPE from those emergency distributors that were out there serving through the FEMA allocation.”
“I am on a daily basis receiving dozens and dozens of messages indicating the frustration with accessing PPE and that the workers are getting scared because of that,” he said.
Dombi said turning to a telehealth model could lessen the demand for PPE but that not every company is financially equipped to offer such services.
At least one company has seen caregivers opt out of work in the interest of safety, but the owner said it has to do with overall concerns about the virus and not much to do with PPE.
“Many, many caregivers are not interested in working at all at this time because they are afraid of their own health issues,” Beth Sholom, owner of Right at Home in central New Jersey, told Fox News. “They’re afraid to bring [COVID-19] back into their home and they just don’t know enough about the virus. None of us do. So they are choosing not to work. Although, we have plenty of caregivers that are choosing to work and they are amazing, amazing — truly heroes.”
Sholom said she expects those who are opting out of work to resume their duties as more information about the virus becomes available. She added that the company has been hiring to make up for any kind of shortage.
Some home care companies are establishing specific COVID-19 positive units that are dispatched to take care of patients who contract the virus. Brooke Scavino, a registered nurse with the Visiting Nurse Association Health Group, told Fox News that she and her partner work in tandem to safely care for a patient.
“I have full protective gear and I go into the person’s home, I ask everybody to stay six feet away from me,” she said.
Her partner remains in the car on the phone and when she begins the sanitizing and cleaning process, meets her at the door where she takes her protective gear off and puts it in the bag.
Scavino said that while she does see patients in their home, she’s also helping to care for patients in group home settings and assisted living facilities.
“I had a patient with Down syndrome and his father had been his caregiver for the past 30 years, and there’s no other family, and the father died of COVID,” she said. “Then the son had COVID and he was in the hospital for a month and now he’s in a new group home he’s never been in. He would barely let me go near him today. That one was really sad because now he's a ward of the state. And it was just like, 'OK, he needs us,' so we are there for him.”
Scavino said that while the work has been demanding, it’s been the “most rewarding time for me in my career.”
Fox News' Alexandria Hein contributed to this report.