CLEVELAND — Over the course of the pandemic, healthcare officials told everyone not sick enough to be in a hospital bed, to stay at home. At University Hospitals, those COVID-19 patients recovering at home were still monitored by doctors and nurses using telehealth technology and it laid the groundwork for UH Hospital@Home.
“All of it was related to the COVID-19 pandemic and making sure we had hospital capacity and being able to look at sort of innovative ways for us to be able to care for anybody that may need medical treatment,” said Melissa Cole, the vice president of Integrated Delivery Operations for the hospital system.
Cole said UH monitored 2,200 patients from home during the course of the pandemic.
In April, the hospital system created UH Hospital@Home. It is an at-home healthcare service that brings the hospital to patients including social work, physician checkups, nutrition, nursing, pharmacists, and paramedics and providers.
“We pick them up from the emergency department, take them home and immediately their hospital at home program starts,” said Cole.
Medications, meals, infusions, lab and radiology services are all brought to the patient.
“It's different from traditional home care. Traditional home care is more post-acute or what you would do after you were hospitalized,” said Cole. “This actually provides care as though you're hospitalized, but you're able to heal at home.”
Currently, UH is offering the service to patients admitted into the emergency department and diagnosed with COVID-19, COPD, community-acquired pneumonia and cellulitis.
“These are patients that still meet inpatient criteria. They would need to be in the hospital for a couple of days, but they're not requiring a ventilator or a BiPAP machine to maintain their breathing,” she said.
Sagamore Hills native Janora Johnson was the first UH Hospital@Home patient. In April, she went in to her doctor for a checkup and wasn’t feeling well.
“My oxygen level, it was dropping and it was dropping drastically,” said Johnson.
She had to be admitted to the emergency room after doctors discovered COVID-19 scarred her lungs.
“The doctor came in and he said, ‘Mrs. Johnson, I don't want to have to keep you here in the emergency room,’” she said. “He says, ‘What do you think about going home?’”
Johnson said she jumped at the chance.
“Everybody wants to go home. Nobody wants to really stay in the hospital. You know, when you go to the hospital, you don't know who's got what,” said Johnson.
For five days, she received infusions from nurses, monitoring from paramedics, medication and meal delivery and telehealth visits with her doctors. She said it gave her comfort knowing her family members could join in on those telehealth calls.
“It’s just the little things that make you strive to get a little better, a little quicker,” she said.
Five patients have opted into UH’s at-home care, but Cole said they’re already seeing positive results.
“We've been able to reduce our length of stay when we compare it to how long people are staying in the traditional inpatient setting. We've been able to take about a day and a half off their length of stay,” she said.
Johnson is feeling better and credits her recovery to her team at UH.
“I’m back to normal. I’m all put back to normal,” she said.
The program is billed as it would be an inpatient stay. It is approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and has been submitted to other insurance providers for consideration.