Community health care is essential, even during a pandemic

Island Health provides community health services to over 20,000 clients annually to help people across the region live safely and independently in their own homes for as long as possible. Each day 8,000 clients living in communities across Island Health receive home care visits. For older adults living with frailty, people with complex, chronic disabling conditions, patients who are recovering from surgery, and people needing care at the end of their life, home care is an essential service they cannot live without.

One of the lesser-known community health services takes place at a wound care clinic in Nanaimo. Non-healing wounds, when left untreated and unmanaged, can result in significant medical issues including infection, sepsis, the need for limb amputation, and even death. As a result, many procedures provided by specialized wound care nurses are essential to protect the health of patients and prevent an escalation of their disease.

Brenda Beath is a nurse specializing in wound, ostomy and continence (NSWOC) at Nanaimo Community Health Services, whose specialty is dealing with skin. “Having specialized nurses using advanced therapies in wound care, including the removal of dead skin and the application of special fiberglass casts to treat Diabetic foot ulcers, dramatically decreases a patient’s healing time and significantly improves outcomes,” she said.  “This allows patients to get back to their life sooner and often reduces the chance of complications, such as infection and amputation.”

For Richard Bain, a diabetic who lost the toes on his right foot due to diabetes, weekly wound care is imperative for his continued health. “My diabetes dictates my life,” said Bain. “I lost my eyesight and toes to this disease but thanks to the specialized nurses at the Nanaimo wound care clinic and the total contact casting service they provide, they have prevented my infection from spreading and losing my leg. This is a service I cannot do without, even during a pandemic.”

During the pandemic Island Health adopted stringent infection control and social distancing precautionary measures at the wound care clinic, as well as when entering a client’s home. While many health-care providers are working to limit clinic visits and move as many patients as practical to virtual care, in-person visits are still required for many Island Health clients. 

Darrell Montgomery was involved in a serious car accident 25 years ago and broke his neck, resulting in paralysis from the neck down.  He was told that his paralysis would be permanent, but thanks to the services of an Occupational Therapist who visited him in his home, he regained some feeling and limited motor control in parts of his body. Given Montgomery’s limited ability to move his body, pressure sores occur that need weekly care. “I am hoping to get a new hip which will greatly improve my comfort, but first my sores need to be healed,” he said. “One of my pressure points that has been open and bleeding for years is nearly healed, thanks to the specialized treatments I am receiving from the wound care nurses.” 

A variety of services are delivered by the Community Health Services team, among them, help with bathing and dressing, meal preparation, medication support, prescribing and assisting with exercise programs, wound care, end-of-life care, and providing respite for family members. Clients may receive health services from a variety of health-care professionals, including registered and licensed practical nurses, occupational and physical therapists, dietitians, social workers and community health workers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this essential care has been critical to ensuring clients maintain their health and wellness.

Community Health Services not only benefits clients, but also helps to reduce pressure on other services. “Enabling continuity of care for these fragile patients will improve their outcomes while unburdening emergency departments, operating rooms, hospital staff and hospital beds,“ said Beath.

Home Care services are available to all eligible BC residents who live in the Island Health region. More information is available at care-services/accessing-community-health-services.