3 Tips for Returning Home from the Hospital During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Returning home after a stay in the hospital or an inpatient facility can be tough under normal circumstances and can be a real challenge during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Whether you were hospitalized for complications of COVID-19, a fractured hip or surgery to remove cancer, here are three tips from UNC occupational therapists Jenny Womack, PhD, OTR/L, and Raheleh G. Tschoepe, MS, OT/L, to help with a successful shift from hospital to home.

1. If possible, plan ahead.

Although you sometimes end up in the hospital unexpectedly for an urgent health condition such as a heart attack, appendicitis or COVID-19, often you have time to prepare for a scheduled hospital stay. Part of that planning should include making arrangements for your care when you are discharged.

“Think through what your situation is before you go in. Do you live alone or with others, and what is the capacity of those others to help you?” Womack says.

It’s important to determine how you’ll get your medication—your caregiver, a delivery service—and it’s helpful to have prescriptions filled before hospitalization, if possible. Stock up on nonperishable food staples and frozen foods so you don’t have to worry about cooking. Have a plan for transportation if you need to get somewhere. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family, friends or your care team, who can connect you with community resources.

During the pandemic, it’s likely that at least some of your follow-up care will be done virtually, by smartphone, tablet, computer or landline telephone. Take stock of your technological capabilities at home so you can tell your healthcare providers how you’d like to communicate.

2. Get as much information as you can before you leave.

COVID-19 limits the ability of occupational therapists and other home health providers to conduct home visits and help you navigate your transition after discharge. So it’s important for the inpatient occupational therapists and case managers who visit you in the hospital to work with you while you are hospitalized to plan for your care at home.

“They can help you create a plan to address your short-, middle- and long-term needs, map that out and help you find the resources you will need,” Tschoepe says.

Review all written instructions and make sure you understand everything. Remember, your occupational therapists and case managers are there to help you determine how you will carry out your daily activities, Womack says.

For example, if you cannot drive, they can help you find a way to get around or identify resources to deliver what you need.

Of course, you are free to call your primary care provider from home if you need additional guidance or help.

3. Take advantage of community resources.

Once you are home, make use of community resources to help you get what you need to heal.

Reach out to your pharmacy and ask if it delivers medicine.

“Many of the national chains are offering free medication delivery right now,” Tschoepe says. “Contact them and ask what options they offer.”

If you need medical equipment, most medical supply companies will deliver. Just be sure to clean and disinfect it before use.

Several organizations deliver food to those who are isolated right now. For example, Meals on Wheels now delivers a week’s worth of shelf-stable and frozen food. And the Department on Aging in Chapel Hill set up a volunteer food delivery service.

“Community agencies, faith-based organizations and civic organizations are going above and beyond to help those who may be food insecure,” Womack says.

Take advantage of these resources that are designed to minimize the need for you to leave your home. This way, you can stay home and work on regaining your health and strength.

For the latest information on COVID-19, visit the CDC website and the UNC Health COVID-19 Resources page, and follow UNC Health on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.