The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown many challenges at primary health care providers in western Victoria, changing and adapting ways in which care is given to the community. With high risk populations a priority during the lock-down period, Western Victoria PHN (WVPHN) has been supporting the 12 Chronic Conditions Model of Care (CCMC) providers that operate in our region to go above and beyond in the most creative of ways to ensure their clients continue receiving exceptional care without putting them at risk of infection.
Understanding that CCMC clients may be feeling isolated during this time even as restrictions ease – many of whom are elderly with chronic health conditions – WVPHN has helped providers transition their services to remote contact and have continued to support these changes.
Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital (EDMH) is one such provider.
Taking client care to the next level
With face-to-face client contact prevented due to social distancing restrictions in response to COVID-19, technology has been the friend to many primary health care providers. Over the last few weeks, telehealth has become the substitute for traditional consultation methods. Modern methods of communication have allowed providers to continue connecting with clients, enabling clients to continue to cope and learn strategies to help them through the pandemic and anxiety whilst in isolation.
Robyn Salt, Operations Manager of Primary Health at EDMH, said that EDMH’s CCMC staff have still been able to maintain continued social contact with clients via:
- Messaging information
- Work sheets
- Mindfulness activities
- Relationship work
- Connecting through social platforms
Ms Salt said that the imposed social restrictions caused concerns that illness may be exacerbated in CCMC clients due to lack of professional care, social connection and poorer lifestyle choices.
“Many clients are dealing with long-term issues, and it is important for people struggling with mental health issues to know there is still support out there and they don’t have to do this by themselves,” said Ms Salt. “Contact from workers and staff on the primary health team by phone, FaceTime, Facebook, Zoom or any other method is more important than ever to show they are not alone.”
The EDMH Primary Health team have worked tirelessly to create methods for the organisation to go beyond the usual level of care they deliver, with their ability to embrace change and innovate on the run speaking volumes to the care they have for their community.
“Community Health Nurse Cath McDonald and the team have been working from home and using telephones, Facebook, FaceTime and Zoom to maintain contact with clients,” said Ms Salt. “Others have working in the Elsie Bennett Centre (a community health centre in Edenhope) to develop exercise videos, exercise sheets, newsletters, put together activity packs, food drop-offs, and assist with the Buddy Program.”
The Buddy Program may be EDMH’s masterstroke. It involves clients nominating someone (friend, neighbour or family member, for example) to check on them daily. Clients are given a green and a red square to put in their window, with green meaning “I’m okay and don’t require anything”, and red meaning “I need some help, I need milk” or “I have a letter to post” and so on. The program is not in any way an emergency service, but rather just a way to ensure clients have someone checking up on them without making physical contact.
Additionally, a fortnightly newsletter is sent out to clients that re-enforces rules around physical distancing while ensuring clients remain socially connected and up-to-date on the Government’s COVID-19 updates, as well as being provided with puzzles, local news, entertainment and fun photos to keep things as cheery as possible.
Continuing client support post-pandemic
As social distancing restrictions ease and the community begins to reacquaint itself with ‘normal’ life, these alternative care models have seen primary care providers reconsider how they will deliver care going forward, asking themselves ‘how do we best utilise face-to-face and remote sessions in a complementary way to deliver the best client care possible?’
For Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital’s Chronic Conditions Model of Care team, the answer is that clients who have met their goals and are discharged can remain in the virtual programs if so desired as a ‘maintenance of effort’ program.
“We run many programs out of the Elsie Bennett Centre and the staff are very supportive of each other, so when we went into lock-down it made sense that they would work together to address the needs of all their clients during and beyond COVID-19,” said Ms Salt.
“Just to know someone cares enough to pick up the phone and call is very important to (the client’s) belief they are not forgotten.”
Visit Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital’s Facebook page to see some of this excellent work in action.