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“Our Hearts Beat for Our Clients”: Home Care Steps Up to Meet COVID-19 Threat

StarPoint Home Care aide, Marilyn Blackmore, receives her Mother’s Day gifts from the agency.
StarPoint Home Care aide, Marilyn Blackmore, receives her Mother’s Day gifts from the agency.

On Mother’s Day, StarPoint Home Care—a subsidiary of Jewish Family Service—wanted to ensure that the mothers they care for (and those they employ) felt honored. Fresh flowers, homemade cookies, and personalized Mother’s Day cards were affectionately delivered to clients and caregivers, alike, and extra PPE (personal protective equipment) was given to the caregiver moms. “The gesture was definitely appreciated,” said StartPoint Director Debbie Balk. “Our clients and aides truly felt cared for and acknowledged, and during these trying times, it’s more important than ever that they sense that. We care about them very much. Honestly, they are like family to us.”

 

From the moment the coronavirus arrived, StarPoint began developing new strategies to better ensure safety for clients and caregivers in this anxious time. Safety has always been a major emphasis for StarPoint, and since the early days of the outbreak, a number of new protocols have been vetted, tested, and implemented.

 

One outcome was to convert StarPoint’s live, monthly training sessions into virtual events as productive and engaging as those formerly held in person. On a Monday evening in May, a group of StarPoint staff members and caregivers gathered for their first video conference call. On the inaugural online training call, directed by Dr. Hamilton Lempert, the Chief Medical Officer of TeamHealth, and a longtime Level One Trauma care specialist, the topic was masks. Dr. Lempert had much to say, given the tremendous importance masks have in fighting the spread of coronavirus. “Dr. Lempert was both deliberate and earnest about the science of proper mask use, but he was also amusing and fun,” Balk said. 

 

For example, Dr. Lempert shared thermal images of people exhaling, making it clear how real the threat of germs emitted from the mouth can be. He also stressed more practical issues, such as how to keep eyeglasses from fogging—no small matter when one’s work is reliant upon clear vision. For almost an hour, the StarPoint aides were free to ask Dr. Lempert questions about best practices, including a detailed explanation for the proper donning and fitting of masks, as well as the safest way to remove them.

 

Safety is even more crucial now. Aides are required to check and record their own temperature before each client visit, and the use of PPE is essential. “All of our staff travel with full PPE kits,” Balk said, “and they always arrive wearing KN95 masks and disposable gloves.” The aides are further equipped with hand sanitizer, sterile wipes, multiple sets of backup gloves, and extra masks for clients who aren’t wearing one. “And don’t get me started on how much we emphasize hand-washing,” Balk laughed. “Everyone on our team knows that’s just a constant, on-going necessity.”

 

 

Our hearts beat for our clients. It can be hard work at times, but the human interaction  and the relationships we develop are what makes this kind of work so fulfilling and special.

— StarPoint Assistant Manager Alicia Reid 

 

 

StarPoint has adjusted its policies in other important ways that were not previously relevant or necessary. If a caregiver might have been exposed to the virus, self-quarantining is mandatory. Further, if an aide works in a facility where essential caregivers are permitted, StarPoint no longer allows them to enter into a private home. Conversely, if an aide works in a private home, StarPoint policy does not let them enter into a facility that accepts essential caregivers. “There is no crossover,” Balk stresses. “Home caregivers go to homes; facility caregivers go to facilities. No exceptions.” 

 

Although this health crisis has led to physical distancing, StarPoint has worked hard to help clients avoid the emotional pitfalls social isolation can trigger. Caregivers have been carefully trained to ensure clients have access to the outside world, through technology. By leveraging tools such as FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom, clients who are sheltering in place have been able to enjoy quality time with friends and loved ones they have not been able to see, touch, or laugh with for many weeks.

 

While day-to-day caregiving is all about giving care, that care naturally results in authentic relationships. “Companionship is such a critical part of our services,” Balk noted, “and our friendly, big-hearted aides are needed now more than ever. One client recently told us: ‘Thank goodness for my caregiver, sometimes she’s the only face I see all week!’” These positive feelings flow both ways; StarPoint’s health aides have a great appreciation for how their clients can enrich their lives. As StarPoint Assistant Manager Alicia Reid recently said, “Our hearts beat for our clients. It can be hard work at times, but the human interaction and the relationships we develop are what make this kind of work so fulfilling and special.”