NEW YORK – Ruth Caballero paused outside an unfamiliar apartment door, preparing to meet her new patient.
She covered the knob with a plastic bag. Put on a surgical gown, then a heavy-duty N95 mask, a lighter surgical mask on top. Cap, face shield, shoe covers. Hand sanitizer between each step of the process. Finally, the nurse donned two sets of gloves and knocked on the door with her elbow, ready to care for her first coronavirus patient.
After about three weeks in a hospital, the man was home in his New York apartment but still so weak that sitting up in bed took some persuading.
“You made it out of the hospital, so you are a miracle,” Caballero told him. “Now let’s keep you out of the hospital.”
Home health care is becoming a new front in the national fight against COVID-19 as some patients come back from hospitals and others strive to stay out of them.
Home care nurses, aides and attendants — who normally help an estimated 12 million Americans with everything from bathing to IV medications — are now taking on the difficult and potentially dangerous task of caring for coronavirus patients.
While Americans are being told to keep to themselves, home health providers and their clients still largely have to engage in person, often intimately. Many agencies are ramping up phone or video visits but can’t always get paid for them, and even the smartest phone can’t physically dress a wound or get someone to the bathroom.
Like their colleagues in hospitals and nursing homes, home care workers have faced a scarcity of protective equipment, but with a lower public profile. Some agencies have scoured for masks at nail salons, auto body shops and tattoo parlors, said William Dombi, president of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, an industry group.