Fifty-three percent of providers have made formal plans to respond to a flu pandemic, and another 23 percent have stockpiled N95 masks or other flu-related supplies, according to a survey of 1,500 providers conducted by AAHomecare between April 30 and May 1, 2009.
Additionally, 18 percent of the providers surveyed said they are working on a formal plan and expect to have one in place within the week. Two-thirds said they are coordinating or communicating with other organizations in their communities to prepare for a pandemic.
The 147 homecare providers that responded collectively serve more than 2.5 million patients through more than 1,000 branch locations across 50 states.
“Home-based care is a centerpiece of the national pandemic flu response and in a pandemic situation, home medical equipment personnel will be on the front lines,” said Tyler J. Wilson, president of the Association. “Our members have experience responding to weather-related emergencies and power outages, which present risks to patients who require oxygen through devices that require electricity. A pandemic flu presents a different set of challenges, but the home medical sector has prepared for them.”
In fact, some homecare providers have been ready for such an occasion for some time, having already formulated pandemic flu plans and received training several years ago.
“We had a pandemic flu drill three years ago that involved hospitals and local EMS,” said Pat Northheimer, clinical director at Cole Care (Coudersport, Pa.). “Projections were made with a scenario that worsened each day. It was very helpful in showing us just how bad things could get if the projections were accurate. The drill went into great detail.”
National provider Apria Healthcare (Lake Forest, Calif) said it tests emergency preparedness plans in its 500 locations at least annually and consults with local or state disaster preparedness authorities.
“We have notified local hospital, law enforcement, fire departments, and our local am radio station of our status and availability of services during emergencies, ” said Bob McLellan, general manager of Pacific Coast Medical Supply (Astoria, Ore.).
How much impact could a swine flu pandemic have on HME? Two years ago, AAHomecare and other healthcare organizations participated with the CDC and other federal in a two-day panel to advise the federal government about the role of home-based care during a flu pandemic. This resulted in “Home Health Care during an Influenza Pandemic: Issues and Resources,” a publication prepared by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which contains links to resources and detailed discussion of key issues related to planning, patient care, community and business response, legal questions, and workforce challenges.
The publication stated that “it is expected that the large majority of individuals infected with the influenza virus will be cared for in the home by family members, friends, and other members of the community – not by trained health care professionals.”
Moreover, the guide said the demand for home health care services during a pandemic influenza outbreak could exceed the home health care industry’s current capacity to respond. Indeed, the overall surge capacity and preparedness levels of the home health care sector that will be necessary to respond effectively to a public health emergency such as pandemic influenza are significant unknowns.”