JOE HERMITT, The Patriot-NewsHeather Sharar hired a Home to Stay nurse after her son, Sean Smith, 7 months, was discharged from the hospital after being born premature.
Heather Sharar was anxious about taking her newborn son, Sean, home from the hospital. Born 12 weeks premature, Sean faced a host of health concerns as he left the neonatal intensive care unit at Harrisburg Hospital. Would he gain weight? Would he be able to breathe properly?
But a new home health care agency made sure Sharar did not have to go through the experience alone. For several weeks, a nurse from Lower Paxton Twp.-based Home to Stay regularly visited Sharars home in Carlisle to check in on Sean and answer his familys questions.
It was comforting to have someone who could come to our home and help, Sharar said. It brought peace of mind that you had an extra set of eyes watching him.
Established in December 2010, Home to Stay specializes in pediatric home care.
While many people associate home health with older adults, Home to Stay and other agencies are responding to the growing need for services for the youngest patients and taking on the special issues that come with providing those services.
When you serve children, youre serving families, said Patti Fife, a registered nurse who is founder and president of Home to Stay. Its not just about the childs needs, but also about the siblings needs, about the parents needs. You have to tie it all together.
Home to Stay offers services in eight counties, including Cumberland, Dauphin, Lebanon and Perry counties. Its services include skilled nursing care provided by registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, as well as care provided by home health aides. All care is overseen by a registered nurse and directed by a physician. The vast majority of Home to Stays business is pediatric care, but the agency also serves a small number of older adults.
There are a variety of reasons why a family may require pediatric home health care, Fife said. Children born prematurely might have respiratory issues that require follow-up nursing care. A family might need help managing multiple medications a child is taking. Some children might be dealing with immune-system problems that make it difficult for them to leave their homes to seek care.
No matter the patients situation, all providers of pediatric home health care must be ready for a working environment that often differs significantly from adult-focused home health settings. Not only do providers have to care for the child, they also have to provide support and education to the childs family members, Fife said. In addition, providers have to navigate the emotional and behavioral issues that may emerge as a family struggles to provide care.
Because they are often offering care for several hours each day, if not round-the-clock, pediatric home health care providers must play a variety of roles for patients families, including being negotiators and consensus builders, said Vicki Hoak, executive director of the Pennsylvania Homecare Association in Lemoyne. If Im there as part of a round-the-clock shift, I become part of their family and become part of the dynamics of the family, she said.
Kelly Linzeys experience with Home to Stay shows how the relationship with a pediatric home health care provider goes beyond medicine. When the Lower Paxton Twp. resident took her daughter Sarah home from the Harrisburg Hospital NICU in December, she turned to Home to Stay. During Fifes five months serving the family, not only did she check in on Sarah, but she also gave Linzey extra confidence as a new mom.
Patti really helped me out and became a friend of sorts, Linzey said. I kind of miss that she doesnt come here anymore.
Technology is a primary reason why the need for pediatric home health services is growing. Advances in technology mean that children are being sent home from the hospital much quicker than in the past and providers of home health services have much more technology at their disposal to use in a home setting, said Rochelle Harbick, Mechanicsburg office director with Bayada Nurses.
Were running mini ICUs out of the home, she said.
The increasing use of technology in pediatric home care presents a challenge to the industry, as well. Using such technology requires highly skilled nurses, and finding enough qualified people to serve families can be difficult, said Kelly York, director of PSA Healthcares Harrisburg office. Providers also are affected by debates over government spending because care for many children is paid for through Medicaid.
Every year, the future of Medicaid funding is always a big question for us, she said. But for clients like Sharar, the value of pediatric home health care is clear. Six months after coming home from the hospital, her son Sean is doing great, she said.
I would recommend [pediatric home health] for anyone with a baby, she said. Its comforting for any family to have someone to talk to who has that medical expertise.
Caring for children
Here are some of the providers in our area that offer at-home health care for children:
Bayada Nurses Mechanicsburg Pediatrics office; 717-795-5950
Home to Stay 717-545-1293
Links 2 Care Harrisburg; 717-545-4940; 888-900-4940
Maxim Healthcare Services 717-526-4555
Pediatric Services of America Harrisburg; 717-540-1051