Caring for Chronic Illnesses After COVID-19
August 06 2020
Caring for Our Most Vulnerable Populations in the New Normal
Currently, researchers are still trying to find a vaccine for COVID-19 and it may be some time yet before one is found. And if the vaccine is made with a live form of the virus, versus an inactivated form of the virus, it also remains to be seen if those with chronic illnesses, especially those with autoimmune disorders, will be able to take the vaccine. Because of this, we are living in a new normal and that also means enacting extra safety precautions when caring for those with chronic illnesses. What we have also learned is that a virus such as this can strike at any time and that we have to protect those who are most vulnerable from future pandemics with permanent changes to how we all live and work.
It is extremely important to ensure that those with chronic illness are not put at any undue risk. So it is vital that we all do our part to keep vulnerable patients safe, whether it is from COVID-19, the flu or another virus. Some things won’t change, but extra vigilance will be required in this new normal by both healthcare workers and the family of the patient. Here is what we can all do to care for our most vulnerable patients post-COVID.
What Home Healthcare Workers Can Do
Continue Proper Hand Washing
Healthcare workers should already be washing their hands before and after each patient visit, but it is always good to remind everyone to thoroughly wash their hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds. If you are unable to wash your hands, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. This will stop germs from spreading so easily.
Temperature Checks and Monitoring Personal Health
Healthcare workers should monitor their own health, including doing self temperature checks. If they are feeling unwell or are running a fever, they should stay home until they are feeling better. The home healthcare agency will take care of finding a stand-in worker to help with care continuity for patients. This will ensure that all patients, especially those with chronic illness, aren’t put at additional risk of getting sick.
Personal Protective Equipment should be worn, especially when visiting with chronically ill patients. Wearing a mask is an important part of stopping the spread of airborne viruses such as COVID-19, and wearing a mask the entire time during all visits will most likely become part of our new normal. Remember to protect yourself by not touching your face or mask while working with patients.
Monitoring Patient Vitals
Monitoring patient vitals is done with every visit. However, it is important to be extra vigilant and also watch for signs of a viral infection, such as having a fever or a dry cough.
When possible, telehealth may be used to avoid any unnecessary contact. These virtual video chat or telephone appointments can help keep caregivers and chronically ill patients connected safely. It will allow patients to ask questions and for healthcare workers to ensure that the patients are well and safe. If direct care is needed, a visit should be scheduled.
This new normal can take a toll on all of us emotionally. However, chronically ill patients will need to self-isolate longer than the rest of the population and this can cause additional stress and anxiety. Make sure to speak with your chronically ill patients about how they are feeling. Recommend them for therapy or counseling if necessary.
What Chronically Ill Patients Can Do
To protect yourself, continue to self-isolate until a vaccine is found. Depending on the vaccine and whether you can take it, you may have to limit visitors or only allow visitors who have been vaccinated.
Other Precautionary Measures
Regular proper hand washing should become part of your new normal. Wash your hands before you eat and after having visitors, including healthcare workers. Avoid touching your face unless you have just washed your hands. If you are able to, wear a mask when you have visitors over.
Be sure to practice self-care to help ease additional anxiety and stress. This can be practicing meditation or just doing something you enjoy. Be sure to speak with your healthcare worker if you feel your anxiety or stress is getting out of control. It is okay to seek help when you need it.
What Family Caregivers, Friends and Family Can Do
Family caregivers and other family members who live with the patient should self-isolate as much as possible. If you must go out, be sure to take a shower when you come home before interacting with your loved one. When you do have to go out, be sure to wear a mask, ensuring that it covers both your nose and mouth. Do not reuse disposable masks, throw them out immediately, and wash cloth masks after each use.
Family who do not live with the patient and friends should call before coming to visit. Respect the patient’s desires. If they ask you to self-isolate for 14 days before coming to see them, respect those wishes. Wear a mask when visiting and practice proper handwashing. By being extra careful in our new normal, we can all ensure that chronically ill patients are not put in extra danger of catching an illness.
Because those living with the patient may not be able to go out, friends and family should offer help. This can be running errands, such as buying and dropping off groceries at the door.
Above all, practice empathy. Don’t trivialize their struggles with this new normal by telling your loved one that they are overreacting or joking about self-isolation by calling it a “staycation.” Instead, listen. Ask how they are doing and offer them a safe, nonjudgmental place to share their feelings.