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Recovering From COVID At Home? Pandemic Health Workers Can Help

OSF Healthcare

Before the coronavirus hit Illinois, Shannon Egli practiced dissections with first year medical students and helped doctors train for procedures in preparation to work on patients.

He is the coordinator for the Anatomical Lab at OSF HealthCare’s Jump Simulation and Education Center and a clinical associate for the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria.

But now, he spends much of his day taking phone calls, being a remote tech assistant, and dropping off packages for people sick with COVID-19, taking proper precautions.

“When we go to someone’s home to deliver a care package, we let them know we don’t want them coming outside,” said Egli. “We want them to stay inside until we get the package delivered.”

Egli is a pandemic health worker with OSF HealthCare in Peoria. Clients referred to staff like him get health and wellness kits, hand sanitizer, a thermometer, and a pre-loaded tablet, if they don't have their own device.

Gov J.B. Pritzker and three healthcare systems - OSF HealthCare, Advocate Health and SIU Medicine - recently announced the program with the goal of easing the burden on hospitals.

With funding from the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the healthcare systems are paying salaries of the pandemic health workers. The total cost of the program depends on how many participate during the course of the pandemic, according to a spokesman for IDHFS.

Advocate Health is covering northern Illinois, including Chicago, while SIU Medicine in Springfield is offering the service to people in Carbondale, Decatur, Quincy, and the Metro East. OSF HealthCare initially rolled out the program in Alton, Evergreen Park and Peoria/Bloomington, and then expanded to Champaign/Urbana/Danville, Galesburg/Kewanee/Monmouth, Ottawa/Mendota/Streator, Pontiac and Rockford. 

Anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms can contact these healthcare system’s Nurse’s Hotlines at 217-545-5100 for SIU, 833-673-5669 for OSF, and 1-866-443-2584 for Advocate Health.

Emotional Support

Egli said pandemic health workers provide emotional support for sick clients.

“They’re emotions are changing, if they’re feeling more sad than usual, or if they’re feeling anxiety or stress from staying home, it helps them to be mindful that they’re going through these changes emotionally,” Egli said. Colleen Reynolds, media and relations coordinator for OSF HealthCare, said social distancing can take on toll people's mental health.

“These people are scared because this is a novel illness, and they don’t know what’s ahead of them,” Reynolds said. “They’re in some cases isolated from family members either within their own home, or they are at home, alone.”

The program ensures that those who are suffering from COVID-19, but don’t need hospital care, can stay home and get the support they need to recover. If medical problems persist, pandemic health workers will refer clients to doctors or nurses to oversee their care.

The patient monitoring program is free, but those requiring telehealth visits can be covered by insurance. If a client is on Medicare, they will be responsible for the same copay or deductible as they would have paid if they came in for an in office visit.

People don’t have to have been tested for COVID-19 to be eligible. The program also serves those who have the symptoms, like fever or dry cough.

Training And Redeploying

The healthcare systems aren’t doing many of the surgeries, tests, and other services they usually offer because of the pandemic. So they are redeploying current staff to be pandemic health workers. After the pandemic has run its course, workers will be able to resume their normal positions.

Pandemic health workers are required to go through training before they start.

Tracey Smith, the executive director of the Office of Community Initiative and Complex Care at SIU Medicine in Springfield said they have been working with the Illinois Department of Public Health for the last year training community health workers for instances like COVID-19 through a project called ECHO.

”We offer a one day training that is all teleconference based for those who are already community health workers, and a two day training for those who have not been trained before,” she said.

Initially, the program employs 250 healthcare workers, but a spokesperson for HFS says this could change depending how long the pandemic lasts.

Editor's Note: The kits include a thermometer, hand sanitizer, and a pre-loaded tablet, if they don't have their own device. A previous version incorrectly state it includes food and medicine. OSF Healthcare covers Alton, Evergreen Park and Peoria/Bloomington, and then expanded to Champaign/Urbana/Danville, Galesburg/Kewanee/Monmouth, Ottawa/Mendota/Streator, Pontiac and Rockford. A previous version state it covered Bloomington/Normal, and Peoria areas.

Olivia Mitchell is a graduate Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2020 legislative session.
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