Published in Lynn’s The Daily Item
Written by: David McLellan

LYNN — One patient was at home receiving geriatric care, while her husband was dying in the hospital from COVID-19. That’s when one of the nurses from All Care VNA & Hospice came to the home and facilitated final goodbyes from the wife and the rest of the family.

It may have been over the phone, but that Skype meeting and the dedication of one worker allowed a dying man to feel his family’s presence as he slipped away.

The nonprofit All Care VNA & Hospice provides private and at-home health care from visiting nurses, and both hospitalized and at-home hospice care to the acutely ill. With the COVID-19 pandemic peaking in Massachusetts — nearly 40,000 confirmed cases Tuesday, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health — the organization is having to balance protecting its workers, patients and their families, with providing comfort for those who are dying. All staff are screened for COVID-19 symptoms and possible exposure, as well as patients before at-home visits.

According to Jo-Mary Koopman, senior vice president at All Care, the organization services all of Essex County, and parts of Middlesex County and Suffolk County, including East Boston. Its strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic begins with collaborating with hospitals, such as Salem Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, and CHA Everett, formerly known as Whidden Memorial Hospital, to bring patients home.

“Keeping people out of the hospital is now of more paramount importance,” Koopman said.

Koopman said bringing patients home not only allows them to be cared for while surrounded by familiar people and things, but frees up space in hospitals, which are increasingly devoting their beds to COVID-19 patients.

While hospitals are either severely limiting or completely ending visits to patients right now, Koopman said at-home care has the benefit of people actually being allowed to have visitors, as long as the patient or any visitors do not have COVID-19.

“We want people to be at home so they can die peacefully surrounded by loved ones,” Koopman said.

Telehealth visits, when possible, are being conducted, during which doctors and nurses provide advice and services virtually to keep vulnerable patients away from hospitals.

In the cases of those patients who do have COVID-19, and are receiving end-of-life care such as artificial breathing, nurses are setting up phone calls, and visits on applications like Zoom to allow final goodbyes from friends and family.

“Our nurses are taking the added time onto our visits to call patients’ families so they can be a presence for their loved one,” Koopmen said. “(For one patient), she was not only supported and comfortable, but it was coordinated on Zoom so the family could be there for her and say goodbye before she passed.”

In all cases, All Care’s roughly 500 staff have been equipped with personal protective equipment, such as masks, and full protective equipment for nurses visiting COVID-19 patients.

There is no risk currently of All Care running out of protective gear, thanks to four shipments from the Massachusetts Department of Health and a donation of 2,500 masks by one of the nonprofit’s board members, Koopman said.

“Right now, we have a sufficient amount, but we’re still seeing a lot of COVID-19 cases,” Koopman said. “You see it in the news, but our staff, they’re heroes in my eyes. They are out there every day, pounding the pavement, visiting those that need it. It’s what makes me proud as an administrator here, to see that sense of duty.

“You certainly see the best in people during such a stressful and scary time.” she said.

Furthermore, All Care has stuck to its pledge of not laying off any employees during the pandemic.

“We’ve been here since 1911 and we’re a strong organization. We made a commitment not to let anyone go and we haven’t,” Koopman said.

Koopman said she hopes people will use All Care as a resource, and reach out with questions about at-home care, COVID-19, and their loved ones’ health. To reach All Care, call (781) 598-2454.