There was no hospital building in 1877, when The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis began caring for sick people in Peoria, Illinois. They delivered care in residents’ homes.
Today, OSF HealthCare is a 14-hospital system with over 130 ambulatory care clinics. But one of the hottest areas of the Ministry – where surging patient demand is driving a need for more providers – is OSF Home Care.
“It’s where the Sisters started, seeing patients in their home, meeting a need wherever it was,” said Lois Bentler-Lampe, vice president of clinical operations and chief nursing officer for OSF Home Care Services. “Home care fits beautifully with the Mission of being here to serve all persons with the greatest care and love.”
Safe, effective care at home
Building a great home care delivery system was a priority for OSF HealthCare before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020. Now it’s in high demand.
In the early days of the pandemic, OSF Home Care leadership was concerned that hospitals and partner nursing homes could be overwhelmed. So, they planned for more complex home care to help transition patients out of the hospital sooner and also to reduce hospital visits.
Even though strict safety measures are in place at all OSF HealthCare clinical facilities, some people prefer to avoid going places where COVID-19 patients are being cared for.
“If we can provide care at home safely, it’s better for everybody,” said J.J. Guedet, vice president of operations and strategy for Home Health Administration.
Want to be a home health nurse?
J.J. estimates that before the pandemic, 70% of home care patients were those who required assistance after being discharged from the hospital. The other 30% were in preventive care mode, trying to avoid hospitalization.
Post-hospital care has not gone away. But the demand for preventive home care today is soaring – and the demand for home care nurses is on the same path.
“There is huge opportunity for home health nurses. It’s remarkable. We could grow by 20% tomorrow if we had the personnel to do it,” J.J. said.
Home health care gives families peace of mind. They don’t have to find transportation to doctor appointments or be concerned with going out in bad weather. They don’t have to worry about risking exposure to infectious diseases in public. And they have 24/7 access to a nurse.
“You can call our after-hours triage line, and we answer your questions,” Lois said. “If you need a nurse in the middle of the night, we will send one to your home.”
While most services are provided in person, in your home, clinicians also use phone and video visits to provide care.
The home health nurse works with a team, but personally performs tasks that range from changing dressings on wounds to taking lab samples. Nurses make sure you are taking your prescriptions and correctly performing therapy exercises.
Other in-home services include:
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Respiratory therapy
- Social worker visits
- Speech therapy
- OSF Home Care aide assistance
Patient education is also key.
“Our goal is self care,” Lois said. “We want to educate you to be confident in your ability to care for yourself, your diet, your wound or whatever it might be. We want to put you on a path where you don’t have to go to the hospital.”
Patients bond with home nurses
A major benefit of home health nursing care is the personal relationship that develops between the patient and their nurse.
J.J. tells of a close family member who used home health care.
“Without it, I bet we would’ve had two or three emergency department visits for little things. Instead, there were none,” J.J. said. “They developed a personalized relationship with the care team. When they’d get a cough at night, instead of an emergency trip, they would call the nurse and resolve the problem.”
And nurses love that part of the job, Lois said.
“You might be the only person that patient sees for days. You become a meaningful part of their life,” she said.
“You do have to be flexible. It’s not like your shift ends and your care ends. You’re managing the patient and what they get from their social worker, their therapist. You’re meeting their needs. You’re their advocate. If their pain meds aren’t working, you are that patient’s voice with the provider.
“But that’s all very rewarding.”
Ideal home nurse qualities
Home health nurses see a lot more patients than a hospital unit nurse. They also deal with a wider variety of cases and patient needs.
“You get to work at the highest level of your license,” J.J. said. “You have to be a generalist. You might have a wound patient with an IV and antibiotics in one home, then a heart patient or person with COPD in the next.”
Lois and J.J. identified some of the ideal qualities for a home health nurse:
- Great clinical and assessment skills
- Good critical thinker and problem solver
- Great communication skills
- Thrives working independently, but also good collaborator
- Mobility to work well in different environments
“OSF Home Care is building team-based, patient-centric care in the residential environment,” J.J. said. “Home-based care is the true legacy of our founding Sisters. Giving people access to care beyond the hospital walls is the purest form of fulfilling our Mission.”