“Sick or well, there’s no place like home.”
While many Americans are spending more time than they are used to at home these days, the motto of Three Rivers Home Health Services seems more appropriate than ever.
What started in 1979 as a single location home health care office in Eastman, Ga. has blossomed into a network encompassing nine locations and serving 32 counties across the state. The Milledgeville office opened in 2005 and currently provides home health services for patients in Baldwin, Putnam, Wilkinson, Washington and Hancock counties. One thing that sets Three Rivers apart in the home health industry is that the company still operates under the same management as when it first opened in Eastman a little more than 40 years ago.
“We’re one of the only home health agencies that has never changed ownership,” said Terri Burner, who has served as director of therapy services for Three Rivers since 2009.
Three Rivers provides in-home services to patients who need help with issues such as wound care, managing medications, rehabilitating joint replacements, Alzheimer’s, cardiac disease, diabetes and more.
“As a home health provider, a physician orders home health for people that need either a nurse or a physical therapist or an occupational therapist or a speech therapist in their home when people can’t get out to go to facilities,” explained Burner.
Typically, a patient needs to have a face-to-face appointment with a doctor for the doctor to certify that the patient is indeed homebound and in need of home health care.
In light of the current state of emergency and shelter in place order due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Burner is especially concerned about patients getting the care that they need. Many doctors’ offices are working on limited hours, and many patients who are elderly or immuno-compromised do not want to leave the house during the pandemic. Burner said that agencies like Three Rivers can be just the help people need in these times.
“We really are the hands and feet, if you will, for physicians and doctors’ offices, especially right now because patients aren’t able to get out and go,” said Burner.
One thing Burner said the government has done in response to the pandemic to help bridge the gap in getting care is allowing telemedicine visits to qualify as the face-to-face physician visit needed to be certified for home health care. Burner encourages those in need of in-home care to reach out to their doctors to try to schedule a telemedicine visit. Once the telemedicine visit has occurred, the physician can call Three Rivers and fax the documentation they need to instigate in-home care.
In some cases around Georgia, Three Rivers has found ways to be of service to patients who do not have the means or knowledge to access a telemedicine appointment by sending a nurse into the home to help the patient have the online appointment with their physician so they can get certified for home health care.
“We’re willing to help the physicians out. These physicians, there’s only so much they can do through the iPad and the iPhone. But if we go out, we can take their vital signs and lay physical eyes on them,” added Burner.
Burner has found that during this difficult time, many people do not know how to get care for their loved ones who cannot get out to normal doctor’s appointments. This is where she hopes Three Rivers can be of most help in the community right now.
“There’s a lot of people that I don’t think they even know that a company like us can even come to them right now,” said Burner.
Burner also stressed that Three Rivers is taking all necessary precautions for safety with regard to COVID-19.
“We’re taking all of the protective measures. We’re wearing masks with every person, every patient. We do screenings every day for all of our employees in addition to the patients,” said Burner.
Burner said she hopes these measures can put people at ease. While she admits elderly patients in particular can be skeptical at first in allowing health care providers into their home for fear of ending up in a nursing home, she pointed out that the priority at Three Rivers is actually to keep the patient in their home as long as possible. She encourages those who need support, or those whose loved ones need support, to reach out for assistance in how to get started with home health.
“We’re the ones that keep you in your home,” said Burner. “The whole goal of home health is to keep you home as long as possible, but to keep you safe.”