Over the last few weeks, VNSNY nurses, joined by other clinicians when necessary, have been caring for COVID-positive patients returning from the hospital.
To ensure this care is delivered safely, they follow a strict protocol: Before a nurse even goes to the patient’s home, the nurse calls to make sure that only the patient and one family caregiver will be present for the visit, and that both have masks on. They also make sure that the patient’s home or apartment is well-ventilated.
Once the nurse arrives, dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) from head to toe, social distancing is observed wherever possible, excluding the physical examination. The clinical equipment used during the visit—a stethoscope, thermometer, and blood pressure cuff—remains with the patient.
Following the visit, the nurse removes and disposes of all PPE, also according to strict protocols, washes their hands, and wipes all surfaces with disinfectant.
Through all these precautions, VNSNY nurses continue to deliver care with skill and compassion. Debbie S. has been a nurse for 30 years, 20 of them with VNSNY. She cared for patients at the height of the AIDS crisis and was also highly involved in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. “But I’ve never experienced anything like this public health challenge,” she says.
Debbie, who is based in Nassau County, recently visited a COVID-19 patient who had been discharged from the hospital and now lives with her adult son, who is also COVID-19 positive. Debbie poured the woman’s medications for the week. She also helped the son encourage his mother, who was very weak, to sit up (which reduces pressure on the lungs), breathe, and cough productively to improve her blood oxygenation.
“The level of anxiety in the home was very high, but they found great comfort in the fact that I was there helping them through this,” says Debbie.
Other patients and families also find comfort in their VNSNY nurse’s care and want to express their gratitude. At all times, though, social distancing must be observed. John R., a nurse from Manhattan, says, “One caregiver was so thankful that she jumped up and wanted to give me a hug. I had to stop her,” adding that the power of the human touch must now be conveyed through the warmth of the voice and compassion of expression.
Other families convey their thanks remotely. One grateful daughter sent a moving email thanking VNSNY for the care her COVID-19 positive father received. “Visiting Nurse Sandy O. just left. PT and OT are scheduled for next week. I could literally weep,” she wrote. “I’ve been so overwhelmed nearly at my breaking point. Thank you so very much. I feel less alone in handling my father’s care now that VNSNY is engaged!”
“I’m so happy that COVID-19 patients are coming home,” says Ruth C., a nurse who works in Manhattan and has been with VNSNY for 19 years. “I can’t imagine how isolating it has been, not to see their families and with medical staff in the hospitals limiting time with patients. Our visit may be the longest amount of time that a health care worker has spent with them. We’re committed to doing whatever we can to help patients return to the community, and ultimately return to their optimal level of health and wellness.”
Patient education, always a vital part of home care, has never been more important, with a new virus that spreads rapidly and can cause such havoc. “I’m continually talking to families about COVID-19 precautions,” says Ruth, “such as wearing a mask when nonessential persons are in the home, keeping the room well ventilated, and increasing the patient’s protein and fluid intake to get their strength up because they’re very weak.”
VNSNY home care nurses also serve as “eyes and ears” for COVID-19 patients’ physicians, communicating regularly and reporting on any warning signs so the physician can act quickly—for example, by prescribing an antibiotic if necessary.
“We are the voice of the patient in this difficult time,” says Cidric T., a nurse in Queens, where the pandemic has hit especially hard. “We explain everything to them, advocate for them, and are with them every step of the way. That’s what being a nurse truly means.”