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At Community LIFE, Home Care Aides Are the True Heroes of the Pandemic
VITAS® Healthcare cares for patients at home, wherever they call home.

By Nancy Kennedy

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a substantial impact on nearly every aspect of modern life: health, jobs, emotions, activities and relationships with each other. One of the groups most affected by the changes of the pandemic is the senior population, especially the frail elderly who live at home. For them, separation from family, friends and activities can be devastating; the isolation and loss of normalcy wrought by COVID threatens their physical and emotional health, their quality of life and their cherished independence.

Fortunately for hundreds of older adults in the region, Community LIFE is there to meet their needs, and to do so with compassion, skill and flexibility that counter the challenges of the pandemic. Community LIFE – an acronym for Living Independently for the Elderly – is a comprehensive program that serves as an alternative to nursing home placement for those seniors who have medical needs and functional challenges, but prefer to age-in-place in their familiar homes and neighborhoods, with essential support. Community LIFE facilitates this with a remarkably effective program of primary medical care, home care, social and therapeutic services, a day program and supportive services such as transportation.

“Due to the pandemic, there has been a shift at Community LIFE,” says Kirsten Crowe, MBA, director of operations for Community LIFE. “Before COVID we could bring up to 100 participants per day to each of our eight LIFE centers, but now we have a reduced capacity. There’s a need for more home and community based services, so we had to re-vision home care, providing much more support. Home care is extremely important to our seniors.”

This transition has been accomplished with enormous effectiveness, and credit for that primarily belongs to the home care staff, says Crowe.

“We’ve been able to do this very successfully because our community care aides and program assistants have risen to the challenge. The home care staff are a lifeline for our participants. Many seniors are experiencing extreme isolation and loneliness, but Community LIFE participants have strong social connections with their aides. Our aides treat the participants like family.”

The aides see the participants regularly and know them well; thus, they are able to monitor their well-being so that if there is even a subtle change, they are likely to detect it. This added responsibility, of communicating their observations to the interdisciplinary team for further evaluation and possible intervention prevents small problems from becoming bigger ones. “Early detection of a behavior change may prevent a participant from developing depression,” says Gwenn Whiteford, CCC, SLP, home care manager. “A change in eating habits may mean an infection is developing. The aides recognize red flags and bring these to our attention. As a result, our outcomes are excellent and we are able to avoid hospitalizations."

Caring for the frail elderly is always challenging, but COVID has added layers of complexity, Whiteford says. “Our team of RNs, therapists, primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, dietitians and aides are very supportive of each other. The staff is not only dealing with the changing needs of participants but also with their own needs – their families, their own health and working through a pandemic. Things change almost daily and it’s a lot of stress. We support the staff with policies that express appreciation for their excellent work and dedication.”

It has been said that life’s challenges do not develop character, but instead reveal it. This is most certainly true of the staff of Community LIFE, whose dedication to the frail elderly in their care has been revealed and magnified by the demands of the COVID pandemic. Community LIFE has continued to offer excellent, comprehensive services, navigating through unexpected obstacles and finding innovative ways to meet the needs of participants. While this has been a unified effort by all staff, it is the home care staff, Kirsten Crowe says, that has excelled. “The aides have taken on expanded responsibilities, worked longer hours, found creative ways to keep participants engaged and provided protection from the virus for them. We are immensely grateful to the home care team. In a time of great uncertainty, they have provided Community LIFE participants with care, safety, security and love. They are the true essential workers and heroes.”

To learn more about eligibility and enrolling in Community LIFE, visit www.commlife.org, call 1-866-419-1693, or email info@commlife.org.

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