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Due to pandemic, clinics are on hold

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/5/2020 8:57:44 PM
Modified: 7/5/2020 8:57:43 PM

The Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire has suspended its health and foot clinics for the time being as the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health affiliate works to find ways to safely provide the much-needed service to the Upper Valley’s senior citizens.

“The biggest driver is that we don’t have the ability to control a clinical setting,” said Hilary Davis, director of external relations and service excellence for the VNH.

The nonprofit organization runs 25 foot care clinics per month at area senior centers and community centers, totaling around 900 visits a year. Many people visit the clinics regularly. As senior centers closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the foot care clinics were also canceled.

“There’s too many unknowns,” Davis said. “We recognize that this is a vital service to our seniors.”

During a foot care clinic, a registered nurse trims a person’s toenails and cleans their feet. This is particularly crucial for people who have diabetes, who may be more prone to develop complications with their feet. The VNH charges $20 per visit.

“Cost is not a factor,” Davis said. “That’s not the barrier. It truly has to do with the health pandemic.”

Judy Stevens, the adult/senior program manager at the Hanover Parks and Recreation department, has received numerous calls from senior citizens asking about when the clinics will return.

“We were considering at one point possibly offering an outdoor setting,” Stevens said. “Right now we have no options.”

Prior to the pandemic, the center hosted three per month and the slots always filled up. In recent years, they had added the third day to keep up with the demand.

That’s similar to what Kathleen Vasconcelos, executive director of the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council, said about the foot care clinics hosted at the eight senior centers in Grafton County that the nonprofit oversees. The centers remain closed due to the pandemic.

“In Lebanon they were once a week and they booked up,” Vasconcelos said. “They were very popular.”

There is a big need for foot care, especially as the population continues to age. Like other health care organizations in the region, the VNH has struggled to fill nursing positions.

“Staffing has also been a challenge,” Davis said. “There’s not a lot of RNs who are trained in diabetic foot care.”

The VNH employs RNs who work 24 hours per week. Prior to the pandemic, the VNH was trying to fill those positions but has since put the pause on hiring for those roles.

“Right now, we’ve been encouraging people to podiatrists in the area and hopefully they can help,” Davis said. 

It is unclear when the foot clinics will return as the VNH continues to examine their options.

“It’s been too hard to set a timeline when everything is changing so quickly,” Davis said.

The Lake Sunapee Region VNA and Hospice also suspended foot care and blood pressure clinics due to the pandemic and is working on a pilot program to bring the foot care clinics back, said Jeana Newburn, marketing and community outreach manager for the New London-based nonprofit organization.

“We know there is definitely a need out there. We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls from longtime patients of ours,” Newburn said. “There’s a lot of older folks in particular who can't do routine foot care. It’s an important service for them.”

Prior to the pandemic, the VNA did about 20 clinics a month at area senior centers and assisted living facilities. The cost was $25 per visit and they are not billed to insurance, Newburn said.

“It’s very basic routine care but … the longer you go without that it gets difficult,” she said.

In the meantime, they’ve offered at-home foot care visits for $70.

“A small number of people have taken advantage of that, but some people don't want to pay that kind of money,” Newburn said. “Even $25 is a stretch for people on a regular basis.”

If the pilot is successful, the clinics will start up again. Providers will wear personal protective equipment and patients will be required to wear masks. There will be more breaks in between appointments to allow for more time for cleaning.

“Hopefully we’ll have a successful pilot and we’ll be able to roll out others safely,” Newburn said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esaucelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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