Going above and beyond: home health care workers

With thousands of clients scattered throughout the state, home health care agencies began preparations last week to ensure that seniors and people with disabilities would get the services they needed during the storm.

For Margaret DeVito and Heather Marques, who work at VNA HealthCare in Glastonbury, that included making backup plans for a client with intellectual disabilities who uses a battery-powered LifeVest defibrillator device. They worked to secure a backup battery for the LifeVest, which he might have had trouble recharging if he lost power, and, after his car battery died on Saturday, they arranged for transportation in case he needed to go to the Vernon shelter, said Terry Foley, the agency’s communications coordinator.

The hospice care company Vitas asked staff last week to identify patients’ needs for medication, supplies and staffing, and backup for those who rely on electricity for oxygen, tube feedings, suction, ventilation or other treatments.

The agency’s medical equipment supplier, J+L Medical Services, managed to get oxygen and other backup equipment to clients without generators before the governor closed state highways Monday, Vitas General Manager Theresa Bachhuber said.

The staff also tracked the storm to see which patients might need to be relocated, identified who could be visited Sunday and Monday, and created a disaster zone map with staff members’ residences so they could be mobilized quickly.

The challenges of continuing to meet the needs of the thousands of people who rely on home health care became clear during last year’s October snowstorm and power outages, when some home health workers struggled to get to their clients because closed gas stations left them without enough fuel. In other cases, home care patients ended up in hospitals or nursing homes because some shelters wouldn’t take people who used oxygen or were incontinent.

“Our home health workers are creative and resourceful in crisis situations, often thinking of their clients’ needs before their own,” said Deborah Hoyt, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Home Care and Hospice.

“Many workers had no power in their own homes but traveled through rough weather conditions yesterday and this morning to ensure their clients were safe, had food and received their scheduled medications or treatment in their home or in shelters.”