UNC at-home hospital care provides comfort to patients, helps alleviate stress on facilities

Orange County News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – While COVID-19 numbers in North Carolina are much lower than they were in the summer, some parts of the country are seeing surges that are overwhelming hospitals. Full hospitals don’t just affect COVID-19 patients — they affect anyone who needs hospital care.

What if you could get that care in your own home?

UNC Health is offering some patients that option with the Advanced Care at Home program. It allows patients to stay in their own homes, but it’s considered an inpatient hospital stay. Doctors said it can help overcrowded hospitals and make life more comfortable for patients and caregivers.

Roy Underhill.

Roy Underhill is often recognized for his woodworking show on PBS. Last week, he was too sick to do much of anything. Diagnosed with sepsis, doctors told him he needed to be admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics. He soon learned he didn’t actually have to stay.

“They said I had a choice,” Underhill said. “I could either be in the hospital or at home. Well, it was an easy choice. We chose at home.”

Dr. Meera Udayakumar is the executive medical director for UNC Health Advanced Care At Home.

“Basically, patients can be admitted to the hospital, but their hospital room is their home,” she explained.

The program is an option for some patients who are sick enough to be in the hospital but don’t need critical care. The care team comes to the home multiple times a day and communicates virtually 24 hours a day.

“They would come out to the house and do the intravenous infusion of antibiotics and do those about twice a day,” said Underhill. “I had an iPad beside the bed, and I was able to talk to the nurse at any time.”

“He had all of the folks from the hospital attending him and also me,” said his wife, Jane.

According to UNC, the program is approved for people with traditional Medicare and Medicaid. The health system is working to expand the number of insurance companies it works with.

UNC Health has offered the program for about two and a half months, and more than 60 patients have taken part.

“Some people ask why launch this program now, in the middle of a pandemic of all times, but this is the best possible time,” Udayakumar said. “Our hospitals are full. This care model allows us to concentrate our brick-and-mortar hospital resources on the most acutely ill patients and overall take care of a greater number of patients.”

For Underhill, the biggest benefit is simple: a comfortable environment to recover.

“You’re here at home,” he said, smiling, “where you know how to work your own remote control.”

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