Home health leaders can learn from one healthcare system about measures it's taken to help patients during flu season.
With the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, healthcare systems are now preparing for the annual challenge of flu season.
Sarah Overton, RN, chief nursing officer and vice president of clinical services for OSF HealthCare's Home Care Services, which includes home health, says, "We're starting to see an influx of items such as [respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)], which is a deadly communicable disease that impacts our children. Home health is a big partner in making sure that we provide some of those medications that prevent our [kids] from getting sick.
"At OSF, in general, we see an influx of patient activity in our hospitals and our clinics, especially on our home health front if we've got patients that have a lot of comorbidities or chronic diseases," Overton said. "They're our most at-risk for an exacerbation like pneumonia or something that will be debilitating to them."
This year, OSF HealthCare is offering an enhanced flu vaccine for people who are immunocompromised or over the age of 65. According to Overton, over 50,000 vaccines have been administered. Home health patients can receive the vaccine in the comfort of their home, and a vaccine is also available for pediatric home health patients to prevent RSV.
To jumpstart its preparations for the 2022–2023 flu season, OSF HealthCare began planning in March, looking to the southern hemisphere—which gets the flu first—to see what strains it should expect.
Once the health system identified the vaccine they wanted to purchase, it began educating its mission partners about it. Vaccinations were delivered in August and they began to be administered in September.
"Generally, we don't see an influx [in flu cases] until around late November," Overton said. "We'll start to see increases, and honestly, it's probably affected by holidays like we saw with COVID, and it could go through March or April, depending on if we have a late or early flu season. It's about six months out of the year that we're usually dealing with it."
Preventive measures that OSF Healthcare takes with its own staff to prevent flu is having employees who work in patient care areas get their flu vaccinations by the end of October, and new employees are both screened for flu and COVID-19.
Employees also regularly screen themselves, checking how they feel before going to work. There's also a dedicated phone line they can call if they're ill and need to see a provider. In addition to thorough handwashing and sanitizing practices, home health encourages masking.
“In a broad sense, at OSF in general, we see an influx of patient activity in our hospitals and our clinics, especially on our home health front if we've got patients that have a lot of comorbidities or chronic diseases. They're our most at risk for an exacerbation like pneumonia or something that will really be debilitating to them.”
Sarah Overton, RN, chief nursing officer, OSF Heatlhcare
As flu season approaches, health systems are also wary of a potential influx of COVID cases and the rise of RSV in children.
OSF Health began preparing for flu season in March, and expect it run as late as April 2023.