Billings hospice reps say beds available if COVID-19 overwhelms hospitals

End-of-life care done at home instead of hospital
Posted at 2:46 PM, Apr 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-16 16:46:27-04

Billings Compassus Hospice services could be used treat the symptoms of patients with COVID-19 in the event the local healthcare system gets overburdened, said Mark White, Compassus Montana market executive Wednesday.

“We can work with the emergency departments. And if someone comes in in an acute state where they may be COVID-19 positive, rather than admit them into the hospital, the hospital can discharge them directly onto services with us. And we can help manage all those patients at home. Manage their symptoms and let them stay in their homes," White said.

While the worst case scenarios of COVID-19 death and infection haven't yet materialized, White said Compassus is ready to be called to action for overflow patients.

With hospitals becoming stricter on allowing visitors to patients with all conditions outside of COVID-19, hospice can also provide services in end-of-life care. So families don't have to wait outside the hospital while wasting precious moments with loved ones.

“We need to better communicate to people that there is still an opportunity for them to still take advantage of this benefit and provide the comfort and relief that the patients deserve. And the support that the caregivers deserve," White said.

Compassus is a nationwide hospice care company with 130 locations nation wide with four in Montana in the cities of Butte, Bozeman, Helena and Billings. It offers end-of-life care, pain-management care and care for terminal diseases.

For people with terminal illnesses or chronic conditions, hospice can serve to bring the care of the hospital to your door with out the clinical setting.

“It’s scary for everybody right now in the community to seek care in the hospital setting. We just want people to understand that we’re here for them. To help them through things as simple as filling pill boxes on a routine basis, to end-of-life care in the home or in assisted living or skilled nursing facilities," said Katherine O'brian, Billings Compassus director of clinical services.

Some people may be rightfully concerned about having an outside person enter their home. Compassus follows all recommendations for home health professionals established by the Centers for Disease Control.

"We’re constantly educating on a twice a day basis pretty much. All field staff are wearing masks and gloves for all patient and family interactions in person, observing social distancing. We have the personal protective equipment available for when we get COVID-19 patients as well," O'brian said.

The Compassus staff also educate patients about what they can do to stay safe from COVID-19, Obrian said.

To make sure staff aren't sick, Compassus requires a colleague commitment form to be signed daily. It asks about recent travel history, the presence off COVID-19 symptoms and requires a body temperature reading from each employee.

“Whether they are field staff, or office staff, or working from home, everybody is completing that form," Obrian said.

Compassus has also been using tele-medicine to screen new patients. On Tuesday, Compassus connected with a patient with the help of a tablet. The person was able to start hospice care without ever heading into the Compassus office. It's a trend that White expects to continue.

“If they have access to a smart phone, that’s an opportunity for us to be able to still provide that care for them. And there are still opportunities via telephone where we can call them and talk about their symptoms. And determine if they need a registered nurse visit at that time. And go out and provide that to them," White said.

White said hospice service requires no out-of-pocket cost if a person is on Medicare or Medicaid and some private insurance companies cover hospice care.

"And there’s a lot of private insurance companies as well that do have a hospice benefit as part of their coverage. But all hospice services, their durable medical equipment, their soft goods, medications, everything that we need to provide for the patient is a benefit that they’ve been paying for since they’ve been working through Medicare and Medicaid.”

Another thing to cut through the red tape of access to care patients and families. Compassus can start the process with just one phone call to 406-264-0785. White said Compassus can work with a person's primary care doctor to get the care process started.