The challenge of finding aides for seniors can be difficult; the added stress of the current pandemic only makes this task harder. While some home health agencies are providing minimal support for their aides, and won’t take virus patients, SYNERGY HomeCare has gone in the opposite direction. They’re giving aides training and PPEs (personal protective equipment), and taking on all patients who need care.
“Our goal from day one has been to help anyone who needs it—why shy away now,” said David Bersson, a partner in SYNERGY along with Ethan Keiser. “We decided, based on studying the information from the CDC and medical guidance, that if doctors and nurses in hospitals can care for COVID-19 patients in hospitals, we can do it at home as well.”
Bersson said he has been out every day visiting COVID-19 patients and running errands for them. When tested, he learned he didn’t have antibodies, which means he never had the virus.
“It is feasible to be cautious and get through this without repercussions,” he said.
While calls for homecare for COVID-19 patients have fortunately declined, he is receiving more requests for home health aides for those potentially at risk as the virus hit long- and short-term care facilities especially hard, which have made residents reluctant to return.
“People who would normally go to rehab would rather go home with an aide,” he said. “And people who were thinking of going into a nursing home have decided to get live-in help instead.”
Finding competent aides has not been a problem; many have experience caring for patients with compromised immune systems, which require similar protocols.
To help keep both patients and aides safe, SYNERGY has put several procedures into practice. SYNERGY gives aides masks, gloves and sanitizer. They clock in with a phone app that requires them to answer questions about their health such as whether or not they have a fever and how they are feeling. SYNERGY will pair only one aide per patient to limit exposure. Zoom training sessions also give aides information about keeping themselves and their patients safe.
Some patients now have live-in aides, instead of waiting to see a different aide per shift. Bersson explained to the aides that their conscientious behavior doesn’t end when they leave the patient.
“We tell them they always have to be cautious just in case.”
Aides also provide companionship, a critical function for seniors isolated at home, by playing games, watching television and facilitating video calls with family.
Sarah Bersson, David’s wife, is a psychotherapist who runs the Center for Purposeful Aging. She added that isolation can impact a senior’s mental and physical health. She helps seniors differentiate between being alone, which can be empowering, and loneliness. She is doing teletherapy now—which helps them overcome their reluctance to use both therapy and technology. She is also treating their adult children who are struggling to cope with the fact that they can’t see their parents.
Bersson is helping isolated seniors with a new product, a modified version of Alexa that also functions as a personal emergency response system. Offered in partnership with Veterans HomeCare, veterans can get the VetAssist Companion from SYNERGY with no out-of-pocket costs.
Those who don’t qualify can get the Smart Companion for a monthly fee. In either case, the system is voice activated and programmed to play music, call friends and family and make emergency calls. Several can be placed around the home so there is never a need to press a button. The system is encrypted so that it is anonymous and HIPAA compliant to avoid privacy concerns.
Bersson said the system is another way to facilitate care with an aide, or provide support for a person who needs assistance but is not ready yet for full time help.
“Whatever makes people’s lives easier, we do,” Bersson said. “We’re also working with patients’ children who are anxious about making decisions for their parents’ care and don’t know what to do. We’re really geriatric care managers, not just an agency.”
For more information about SYNERGY HomeCare, visit www.SYNERGYhomecarebergencounty.com or call (201) 833-1500.
By Bracha Schwartz