JONESBORO — St. Bernards Medical Center will soon roll out a new program designed to allow patients hospital-level care from the comfort of their homes.

Media relations manager Mitchell Nail said patients who are approved for the program will be treated at home.

“Patients will not have a nurse sitting with them for 24 hours a day, (just like an acute care hospital), but they will have a physician in charge of their care,” he said.

Kevin Hodges, St. Bernards Healthcare senior vice president of administrative services, said the at-home care currently is only available to Medicare and Medicaid patients.

“When this program came out in November, we thought it was something we could manage,” he said. “We applied and were granted.”

Hodges said the original program was called Hospitals without Walls.

“It came out in March 2020 and allowed hospitals the flexibility to provide services beyond their existing walls,” he said.

St. Bernards Medical Center has named its program AcuteHealth at Home.

Although the hospital is approved for the waiver program, Hodges said it will still be several weeks before the actual rollout of the program begins. He said it’s also working on making sure the same equipment and staff are available that would be accessible in a hospital setting.

“Some will be on-site, some in-home and some by telemedicine,” Hodges said. “We need durable medical equipment and oxygen. ... We need to make sure all our hot spots are working (because) not everyone has access to the internet.”

Hodges said the program will be targeting those patients whose diagnoses can be managed safely in the home. It doesn’t limit the number of patients who will be accepted.

“Physicians will be doing assessments and if it is a COVID-19 patient we can take care of in the home, then we will do that,” he said. “We envision a person who has been diagnosed with pneumonia – they would have to have IV therapy and respiratory therapy.”

Hodges said it is not a way to ration health care. Nail said what he has seen in the medical field during the pandemic is an acceleration of programs the hospital had either recently implemented or had been considering.

“We have been evaluating hospital-level in-home care for years,” he said. “Europe has been doing hospital in-home care for years. ... We started the telehealth before the pandemic hit and then it blossomed out of a need for us to use it.”

Nail said St. Bernards is doing OK as far as hospital bed capacity. He said a surge plan was put into place at the beginning of the pandemic to dictate how the hospital would handle the increased demand for ICU beds if COVID-19 cases climbed beyond its capacity.

“But we have had to look at creative ways to meet the census numbers,” he said. “We have not had to increase ICU capacity for quite some time.”

NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital has also created alternative ways to handle patients during the pandemic utilizing two programs.

Marketing director Ty Jones said the Jonesboro hospital has not applied for the federal waiver program. It does have a program that includes home visits to patients, he said.

“We are monitoring as the administration continues to meet about the need and feasibility of the program,” he said. “We also have care coordinators that actually contact those patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.”

If a higher level of care is needed, Jones said the hospital wants to make sure they stay in communication with those patients. NEA Baptist Memorial’s Population Health department oversees the at-home visits, Jones said.

“The Virtual COVID-19 follow-up clinic is monitoring COVID-19 patients,” he added.