Coronavirus News: Home health workers fear spreading COVID-19

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Many healthcare first responders are facing risks when it comes to treating patients with COVID-19. But there are other health care workers who are also at risk, those who take care of patients who are at home and need therapy to help survive.

While experts caution everyone to keep their distance and to stay home, physical and occupational therapists haven't been able to always do that. They work one-on-one with patients inside their homes and assisted living facilities.

A local home therapist spoke to 7 on Your Side saying he's concerned about possibly putting vulnerable patients at more risk of contracting the virus.

"This is not social distancing, this is getting up close when you're doing therapy, it's hands on," said the therapist who wanted to remain anonymous.

Many home therapies include patients who are high risk due to their age and underlying medical conditions.

"The concern is that therapists are going from home to home even if we are possibly asymptomatic or could be possibly carrying the virus and we are going to into patients' homes and we could be spreading it to patients," the therapist said.

Telemedicine is an option by doing therapies online, but experts say there's confusion over what's covered and what's not when it comes to billing. The services of therapists are not covered and coded the same way they are for doctors.
"That's also pushing companies to want to continue to send out therapists and nurses so we can continue to make money," said the therapist.

7 on your Side reached out to the American Physical Therapy Association.

A spokesperson sent a statement that reads in part,

"....our profession plays a crucial role in the health of our society, and there are people in our communities whose health will be significantly impacted by disruptions to care."

The statement went on to say workers should "....use their professional judgment in the best interests of their patients and clients and their local communities - including rescheduling non urgent care if that is the best approach, or making other adjustments when the risk of exposure to COVID-19 outweighs the benefits of immediate treatment."
The Dean of the New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing said more screening should be done before heading into patient homes.

"If it can't be done through remote operations, through telehealth or a phone call and you are making a visit in the home before you walk in you would need to be to understand if that person has symptoms of COVID 19, whether they're been exposed," said Dean Eileen Sullivan-Marx.

However, some people have the virus and don't show symptoms. Some caregivers are worried about transmitting it unknowingly to others.

"We have to do our best to make sure we're minimizing the risk," said the home health care therapist.

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