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Elderly and Alone: Long-Term Caregivers Brace for the Coronavirus


As the coronavirus continues to halt economic activity around the world, many businesses are telling their workers to stay home to prevent the spread of infection. Everything from entertainment concerts and sporting events to community get-togethers have been effectively put on hold until further notice. Yet, for many healthcare workers, staying home from work simply isn’t an option.

If some home health aides and long-term care providers can’t be there for their patients, the results could be disastrous. Many of these patients are elderly, disabled, or suffer from multiple chronic conditions. They depend on live-in healthcare providers for just about everything, including eating, bathing, dressing, and taking their medications.

If you or someone you know works as a home health aide, learn how some care providers are coping with the spread of the coronavirus and how you can prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Caregiving in the Age of the Coronavirus

Many cities and regions across the world, including parts of Washington state here in the U.S., China, and Italy, are currently on lockdown. Citizens are being encouraged to limit or avoid all non-essential travel. This means individuals can only travel for health, work, or in case of an emergency. Workers are also being asked to work from home and telecommute.

However, working from their own homes isn’t an option for home health aides. Yet, if these workers continue going to the homes of their patients to provide care, it could lead to the spread of infection. These workers may then be subjected to mandatory self-quarantine, which would further limit the number of available care providers.

Low Wages and High Demand

The coronavirus has the potential to exacerbate the current shortage of home health aides. These workers already make much less than the average healthcare worker, with some making just over minimum wage. If these workers are forced to stay home, they may have trouble making ends meet. Considering the deficit in their pay, many home health aides also lack access to health insurance, which means they may have to pay for medical care and treatment out of pocket.

Currently, there are about 2 million home health aides in the U.S. Together, they make it possible for around 14 million Americans to live in their own homes. Otherwise, they would likely have to go to a nursing home or assisted living facility.

Establishing Continuity of Care

As a home health aide, there are several things you can do to make sure you and your patients can withstand the effects of the coronavirus:

  • Talk to your employer about possible contingency plans. If there is a ban on all non-essential travel, find out how and if you can still go to work.
  • As the virus continues to spread, come to terms with the reality of not being there for your patients. Talk to them about how they can make ends meet if you’re not around. If they depend on you for virtually every aspect of their daily routine, reach out to neighbors, loved ones, friends, and members of the community for support. Someone may be able to stop by and help the patient get dressed or take their medication if you can’t be there in person.
  • Adhere to the latest infection prevention strategies to stay healthy and protect your patients from the virus. It tends to be most deadly for elderly patients and those with underlying health conditions, so do everything you can to keep germs out of the home.
  • Research alternative routes and travel arrangements if you have trouble commuting to your patients. Public transportation may be down, and some roads may be overly congested.
  • Stock up on home healthcare supplies, including anything your patients may need, as well as extra food, medicine, disinfectant wipes. You don’t need to panic, but make sure your patients are well-stocked.

A Word on Finances

If you get paid by the hour, you might be worried about your own finances. Try to put a little money aside every week or month in case your hours get cut or you can’t go to work for several days at a time. Try to cut back on added expenses and look for other ways to make some extra cash if you’re stuck at home for weeks on end, such as babysitting or earning money online.

Missing shifts can affect your personal finances as well as the health and safety of your patients. As much as you care about your patients, don’t neglect your own personal needs. Pay attention to your health and finances. Wash your hands often, avoid close contact with other individuals, and plan for the worst-case scenario if you can’t be there for your patients.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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