Providing personal care services during a pandemic

Heather* was facing challenges and unsure of where to turn for help.

She was struggling with her lymphedema, which causes swelling in the arms or legs from a build-up of lymph in soft tissues.  Her condition made it difficult to take care of her apartment — and herself. She was also at high risk for COVID-19, which meant staying at home for the foreseeable future.

Cleaning, disinfecting a countertop Cleaning, disinfecting a countertop

Through her dual special needs health plan, Heather was referred to a program that helps provide personal care services.     

That’s where she met Josephine*, a care assistant who could help her with day-to-day needs. When Josephine first visited Heather’s apartment, she saw the struggles Heather was facing right away. The apartment hadn’t been cleaned in two months and Heather hadn’t been able to bathe herself in nine weeks.

Josephine immediately got to work to help. Over the course of several visits, which included appropriate COVID-19 safety measures, Josephine started to clean and organize Heather’s apartment. She also helped Heather take care of her hygienic needs, like bathing and cleaning her hair, as well as doing her laundry. These are also known as activities of daily living, or ADLs.

These personal care services (PCS) were aimed towards continuing to help high-risk members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Members were screened to see if they’d be at increased risk of COVID-19 or in need of long-term support. UnitedHealthcare works with PCS vendors in seven states —Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia — to provide needed services, including meal preparation, cleaning, laundry and help to get groceries by assisting them with buying them online. As of Aug. 14, about 2,400 members were referred to vendors to receive PCS. The program will continue until October.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has allowed for these benefits to be more accessible during the pandemic, understanding that when vulnerable members are at-risk in the community, PCS help them stay safely at home.

For Heather, it was a helping hand in a time of need — especially with getting her apartment in order and creating a healthier environment. Beyond the cleaning needed, it was a chance to reimagine the space to help Heather continue to live independently. For example, her kitchen has been reorganized so she’s now able to reach things on her kitchen shelves.

She also has a nurse checking in on her lymphedema status twice a week. These little changes have added up in a big way — and have helped her avoid a move to an assisted living facility. 

For Josephine, the help she was able to provide Heather gave her a sense of pride in return.

“I am blessed to have met her and to be able to work with her,” Josephine said. “She is a very special lady. I love how confident she is becoming.”

*Names have been changed to ensure privacy. Benefits may vary by plan.