Has COVID-19 Transformed Home Care, Community Healthcare Forever?
COVID-19 really rocked the world.
That’s how Shirlee Sharkey started her virtual presentation titled “The Home of Health”, part of a digital Breakfast with the Chiefs series hosted by Longwoods.
Sharkey is the President and CEO of SE Health, a not-for-profit social enterprise that provides home care, seniors’ lifestyle initiatives and family caregiving services.
“As a response to COVID-19, we’ve seen entire sectors and companies pivot virtually overnight to make the home the centre of activity,” she said. “Everything is now being designed around the home, except healthcare.”
Sharkey added that warning bells were being heard from countries like Italy and Spain early on during the pandemic regarding the importance of home care and its critical place in the overall healthcare structure.
“These countries were very specific in saying home care needed to be part of the solution when they started to run into a very difficult situation with their hospitals,” she said.
In Canada, the one demographic that was hit hardest by the pandemic was seniors – four out of five COVID-19 deaths in the country were attributed to seniors in residential care.
“The results may have been different if even a small proportion of seniors were not living in residential care prior to the crisis,” noted Sharkey.
As the number of seniors needing care continues to grow, an in-depth analysis of the delivery of healthcare options will be needed. The design of the current system is not optimal for home care or community-based healthcare, and this can have lasting impacts on our aging population.
During her presentation, Sharkey highlighted a report from CD Howe Institute.
“According to the CD Howe Institute, 90 per cent of what we do invest in senior care is directed to institutions like long-term care nursing homes and hospitals with only 10 per cent going to home and community care.”
And during the pandemic to avoid a spike in COVID-19 infections, “home care services were pretty much shut down during the first wave. Understandably, people and staff were fearful,” she said.
This shut down resulted in thousands of home visits being cancelled for chronic disease, health management and wellness checks. However, home care providers, including SE Health, took a deep dive into their statistics.
“We found our infection rate for the spread of COVID-19 with our patients and our staff was less than one per cent,” noted Sharkey. “As much as the pandemic exposed cracks in our healthcare system, it also promoted our thinking and helped us open our minds to alternative possibilities and validate ideas we’ve considered in the past, I think it’s pretty clear that change is on the horizon.”
That change begins in the minds of Canadians and how we think about long-term and residential care for seniors.
“I think that movement will force some of the changes that have been needed in this space for well over 30 years. In the short term, we have to open up home care and not change the entire model, but making sure people have access to the care that they need.”
As a result of the pandemic, primary virtual care has been steadily increasing, and Sharkey suggested a possible solution that moving forward it could be augmented with home care visits resulting in better patient outcomes.
“I think it’s the complementary nature with virtual care, more accessibility, and augmenting that with home visits is a great opportunity that we can look at very differently.”