The home health care program through Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids that allows low-risk COVID-19 patients to be released for home treatment, as monitored by a medical professional, has been so successful that officials are announcing its expansion, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

It was launched on December 1, at which time only COVID patients released from the ER were eligible. It's now expanded to other Coronavirus patients who have checked into inpatient care at Mercy hospital. The Gazette story says that of the more than 30 patients in the program so far (29 admitted via ER and three from an inpatient floor), none have returned to the hospital for treatment, which is ultimately the desired outcome. With their discharge, patients are supplied with a self-monitoring kit, including a pulse oximeter that monitors oxygen-saturation levels.

The "Emergency Department COVID-19 Severity Classification" works by scoring patients' illnesses based on symptoms, risk factors and other criteria.

Two nurses work with the patients in the at-home COVID care program, which usually lasts up to eight days for patients. These nurses travel to the patients' homes to check symptoms and monitor progress.

Daily video visits with physicians or nurse practitioners are also part of the program and can take place with or without the monitoring nurse present in the patients' home. The average age of a patient in the program is 66 which factors in to why it's so successful, according to Tawna Salsbery of Mercy Medical Center, who is the director of post-acute and senior services. As we've been reminded many times, patients in that age group or older are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and also happen to be the least comfortable with telehealth services. This makes the technology easy for them and also helps them to avoid continued visits to the hospitals, ensuring they can be "seen" by medical professionals 100 percent of the time.

Salsbery says they soon expect to see this service become a part of their "target" patients' insurance policies, and will maintain capacity at Mercy and other hospitals for severely ill COVID-19 patients in the event of future surges in cases.

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