Home Health

Officials warn to stay prepared for second wave of COVID-19 infections

Whether your home health agency is already working toward recovery from a peak load of COVID-19 patients or is still amidst the onslaught, remember there will be a second wave of patients in a few months.

Take your lessons learned and update policies, protocols and action plans in anticipation of patient numbers that may be even higher than the initial spread of infection at the start of this year’s pandemic.

CDC Director Robert Redfield told The Washington Post in late April that the U.S. could expect a second wave of COVID-19 infections in the fall as social distancing recommendations are lifted. That combined with the annual fall increase of influenza infections could have “an enormous impact,” Redfield said.

CMS and other federal agencies have issued several blanket waivers and eased other regulatory requirements to help home health and other health care facilities meet patient care demands.

Despite many initial beliefs, the waivers did not suspend HIPAA, EMTALA or other requirements, but rather relaxed some enforcement.

 

Refresh your policies

Home health should remain vigilant in all areas of patient safety, warn regulatory and accreditation experts. Regular surveys and other inspections may be largely suspended or delayed, but agencies can still be held accountable for safety problems in the future. Remember that surveys may still happen if CMS or other accrediting organizations determine there are infection control or other major patient safety concerns or complaints.

Also be aware that infection control and other guidance from the CDC, CMS and other agencies and professional organizations has been updated continuously and likely will keep being updated throughout the national emergency—however long that lasts.

As you refresh your policies and protocols, make sure you track the version and date of the guidance the revisions are based upon, in case you are questioned on them later, advise accreditation and legal experts.

The good news is that much of the professional guidance contains key tools that can help you meet both the needs of your patients and regulatory preparedness requirements in the future.