Physician and Patient discussion-1262218519

The Role of Transitional Care in Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 has likely permanently changed how healthcare is delivered in the U.S. While much attention has been focused on the plight of acute-care hospitals, other providers along the continuum have been significantly impacted. Specifically, transitional care facilities have had to adapt to COVID-19 with new treatments and protocols for patients, staff, and family members. Transitional care facilities had to adopt practices that would prevent the spread of COVID-19, but they also had to learn to treat the virus as only the most critically-ill patients were admitted to acute-care hospitals. At the same time, many patients were able to recover at home or in a transitional care facility if that was their home at the time.

As the elderly are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the role of transitional care was essential to managing the spread of the virus as well as treatment and continuing care. As the availability of vaccines provides the potential for relief, there will likely still be some lingering issues for transitional care facilities as the virus wanes.

Ongoing Care for Recovering COVID-19 Patients

Some COVID-19 patients with lower levels of acuity remained in their care facilities while recovering, so facilities have had to learn how to manage their care, protect other residents from the spread of the virus, and protect their caregivers as well. Vigilance regarding protective measures, emerging variants, and vaccine boosters will likely be an ongoing challenge for facilities even as vaccines become more readily available.

In addition, providers will also need to manage the array of pulmonary symptoms that patients might experience after the virus is no longer present. As these symptoms, at least initially, appear to be chronic, facilities will likely need to establish protocols to help identify residents who are suffering from these symptoms as well as processes to ensure that patients receive supportive therapies to manage their symptoms.

Transitional care facilities will also need to continually evaluate the policies which help them make decisions about when and how to return residents to the general population after recovery from the virus. Testing will continue to be important in this type of setting to help make decisions about the return of residents to the general population and to maintain vigilance over the presence of the virus in the facility. In addition, the need to isolate symptomatic residents until their COVID-19 status is confirmed will likely be necessary for the foreseeable future.

Residents and Families – Connected and Protected

The social needs of residents and their families were an early casualty of the pandemic. One of the most heart-breaking aspects of the pandemic has been the separation of families from their loved ones while in hospitals and transitional care facilities. As the pandemic progressed, facilities responded in remarkably creative ways using technology to connect families and residents in safe ways. Zoom, Facetime, and other video calling services have created opportunities to safely re-connect residents and their loved ones while creating some additional tasks for providers. In addition to the technological support of resident’s social needs, facilities also created transparent physical barriers that limited physical contact and the spread of the virus.

Transitional Care – Hospital to Home

Managing hospital surge capacity was a topic that most healthcare consumers would have given little to no thought to a year ago, but now many of those same consumers understand the need to protect acute care hospital capacity. Transitional care services such as home health and other facility-based services as well as the emergence of telehealth has helped patients return to their homes more quickly and has also helped hospitals maintain capacity for the most critically-ill patients.

Transitional Care – Challenges Going Forward

Pandemic fatigue is real – for transitional care residents and for their providers. Masks, social distancing, and handwashing are all part of the new normal as the resilience of the virus and the emergence of new strains of the virus will continue to make it difficult to declare a decisive victory over COVID-19. Continuing education on the use of PPE, observations on the correct use of PPE and handwashing and social distancing protocols will be a necessary part of organizational development in transitional care facilities and services for the foreseeable future.

With transitional care more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations across the care continuum need to be certain they are following and adapting established best practices for communication with patients and families.

Healthcare Continuum Experiencing Unprecedented Challenges in Compliance and Quality

Nursing homes and skilled care facilities that continue to excel are those that treat residents as people worthy of respect, regardless of medical condition or funding source—and regardless of the pressures felt by staff. HealthStream works with skilled nursing and LTC facilities to address these challenges, from keeping pace with regulatory requirements to engaging and developing competent staff who can satisfy the demands of increased patient complexity. HealthStream solutions for skilled nursing and long-term care equip organizations to seamlessly manage the pressures of surveyor visits, while remaining focused on high-quality patient and resident care.

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