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Blue Ridge Hospice using telehealth amid pandemic
By JOSH JANNEY The Winchester Star
Published April 13, 2020

WINCHESTER — Blue Ridge Hospice is incorporating telehealth to help care for patients during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Hospice care is all about helping people remain in the comfort of their home and to support them and their families as they navigate living with a terminal illness,” Blue Ridge Hospice Chief Medical Officer Brendan Flynn wrote in an email to The Star. “Helping patients stay comfortable so they can live wherever they call ‘home,’ surrounded by loved ones, is our mission. We continue to meet those needs during this current health crisis, in part, thanks to the latest technology.”

According to Flynn, Blue Ridge Hospice’s telehealth program enables physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, chaplains and music therapists to continue interacting with patients and their caregivers without potentially exposing them to COVID-19. People whose health is comprised are particularly vulnerable to the virus.

Telehealth uses a digital platform such as a video visit to provide care via a computer, smartphone or tablet.

“Hospice care is, by nature, a ‘hands-on’ type of care,” Flynn said. “Hospice caregivers want to provide the physical presence at the bedside, and indeed we still are providing home visits in person as often as is needed, because technology can only go so far. However, we are also supplementing that bedside presence with virtual care to find the best balance between social distancing and hands-on care.”

Telehealth makes it possible for hospice staff to check on patients as often as needed, Flynn said. “The patients get to see our faces; see a caring smile and hopefully get some reassurance during what is already a stressful time for them. As we all are practicing social distancing, one of the focuses Blue Ridge Hospice has is to make sure our patients don’t feel isolated. We are able to bring into their living room a session with a music therapist, a check-in from their nurse to make sure they have all the medications they need for the coming days or a chat with our chaplain or social worker to talk about the stress or fears they may be feeling.”

Flynn, who has been doing hospice home visits for 15 years, said the changes brought about by the coronavirus have been an “interesting adjustment. “But I have found that once I can see my patient’s face, and they can see mine, the connection is instantly there,” Flynn said. “Above all else, we want to make sure our patients know we are there for them.”

Blue Ridge Hospice has been serving the Northern Shenandoah Valley for nearly 40 years. Its staff of 220 serves more than 200 patients daily.

Although telehealth helps with patient care, Blue Ridge Hospice is facing other challenges stemming from the pandemic, such as a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment including face masks, CEO Richard Kennedy said.

Hospice is asking volunteers to make fabric masks for clinical staff to use when they’re visiting hospice patients. The masks are made using a pattern that’s compliant with Centers for Disease Control requirements.

Blue Ridge Hospice is following state and federal guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus among patients and staff. As such, no one with the virus is allowed inside hospice’s inpatient care facility at 333 W. Cork St. So far, no hospice patients or staff have been diagnosed with COVID-19, Kennedy said.

The virus has forced hospice to temporarily close its eight thrift shops, which bring in approximately $8,000 a day, Kennedy said. To offset the loss in revenue, donations are being sought.

To make a donation, go to brhospice.org/coronavirus. For more information, email INFO@BLUERIDGEHOSPICE.ORG or call 540-313-9200