The Minnesota State Council on Disability, Minnesota Health Department, World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control offer many helpful tips for persons who rely on caregivers. Many people who receive care have compromised immune systems or other special needs therefore keeping caregivers healthy in the face of the flu threat is crucial.
The best way to prevent the flu from being spread by a caregiver is direct communication. It is essential to discuss with the caregiver, that if he or she does become ill, they should take all precautions not put you at risk. Contact your care provider and discuss this before the flu strikes.
Personal preparedness efforts are critical when looking at maintaining personal health. If a person with a disability uses a direct care service such as a personal care attendant (PCA), visiting nurse or home health aide, it is important to discuss what the plans would be if the care provider were to become ill. Questions that need to be addressed are: Will someone else come in the usual PCA’s place? Has the caregiver received a seasonal influenza vaccination? If not, request that this person get vaccinated. When Novel H1N1 vaccine is available, ask that the PCA get vaccinated. Ask your care provider company about the type of flu prevention training the staff receives. Also ask, do I have other support services available to me if the care provider cannot come? Think of others such as family, community members, and other organizations that may be available to assist.
For health care workers and care providers: If you are a caregiver or a family member with questions, some Web sites provide useful information for caregivers. Learn how to care for a person with flu symptoms at home, and when to seek medical attention. Check the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Web sites.
A recent Direct Care Network Newsletter outlined some of the issues caregivers must consider. This information was prepared by Jane Lipscomb, RN, PhD, Director, University of Maryland’s Work and Health Research Center. She is a Direct Care Association Board member. The remarks are excerpted from a presentation Lipscomb recently gave.
If you’re a direct care worker who may be exposed to people with H1N1 flu, you should be fitted for a respirator and use it as needed to protect against becoming infected yourself. Direct care workers may be at increased risk for the H1N1 flu for a number of reasons:
They travel between/care for multiple clients, many of them elderly and people with disabilities, over the course of a day or week. They are more likely to need to work (no paid sick leave) when ill and they are at increased risk of infection related to their income and lack of health insurance (30% have no health insurance coverage).
In the increasingly likely event of pandemic flu outbreak, direct care workers will be expected to care for their usual clients in the community, 30% of whom live alone, and one in five of whom have no other primary caregiver. They may also be asked to care for family, friends and other needy clients outside their caseload.
Unlike their colleagues who work in institutions, home care workers don’t usually have access to standard infection control measures. In a survey conducted in Illinois in 2006, we found only 18% of home care workers reported having surgical masks available, none had access to N95/respirators, Only about one-fourth (27%) had gotten a flu shot in the previous year.
As an essential part of the health care infrastructure, direct care workers should receive high priority for vaccination; antiviral prophylaxis and treatment; access to and training in use of respiratory protection; and paid sick leave. In addition, employers should make sure that N95 respirators are available to and fitted for their care giving staff in accordance with OSHA regulations, and healthcare workers should use the equipment as required by regulations and employer policies.