COVID dwarfs earlier challenges in home health care

"Pandemic fatigue” is creeping into many aspects of life, including health care. How is your organization keeping patient safety at the forefront of its work, especially given uncertainty about the trajectory of the pandemic?

Mac Innes

Joanne MacInnis, R.N.

Joanne MacInnis is President and CEO of Aberdeen Home Care, Inc., in Danvers.

I keep thinking, “This CANNOT be real.” The wonderful world of home health care was already swimming against the tide, with sicker patients, a complex mixture of providers in the home, fragmented information, and limited workforce. Now, COVID’s chaos, impact and fallout dwarf yesterday’s troubles by comparison.

The hyper-vigilance required is exhausting for everyone. I’ve heard it said that we each have a Central Nervous System budget, from which we withdraw and deposit energy. The stress that we ignore taxes that budget, too.

Dealing with referrals, testing, quarantine, contact tracing and uncertainty about revenue and staff availability are huge challenges, but I fear they are the tip of the iceberg. In healthcare, we’ve always needed to change on a dime or even change “yesterday.” And everything takes time and attention: every policy and procedure must be just right, PPE, staffing, vaccination mandates, PPP loans and other less visible demands. No wonder so many in healthcare feel exhausted and, in certain moments, disabled or defeated.

In 20 years of providing private home care, I have seen periods of good fortune, with more than enough clients, referrals and staff to go around. Today, Aberdeen, like many other agencies, has a rolling waiting list. As a primary provider of private care for a large hospice agency, it is particularly painful when we can’t meet the needs of those at the end of life.

Personally, I’ve felt exhausted in a way that’s new for me. My survival and success depend largely on the team of coworkers and staff I have cultivated. I’m fortunate that they represent my big Central Nervous System budget of energy and support, from which COVID has required that I make withdrawal after withdrawal.

It’s time to replenish their Central Nervous System accounts! My office staff went out for an uncharacteristic “Christmas in October” dinner after work. It was a time to commune, commiserate and beef up their Central Nervous System budgets, and mine as well.


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