With Omicron surge looming, UNC program helps ease overcrowding with at-home treatment option

Josh Chapin Image
Tuesday, December 21, 2021
With Omicron surge looming, UNC program helps ease overcrowding
Advanced at Home is a new program from UNC Health that helps to ease overcrowding in hospitals -- just in time for the expected Omicron variant surge.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Roy Underhill is grateful to be teaching woodworking again at the Woodright's School in Pittsboro.

A month ago, he didn't know what his future was going to look like after coming down with a case of sepsis that sent him to the emergency room in Chapel Hill.

One night turned into three because he needed antibiotic infusions.

But he was offered another option that allowed him to receive that treatment at home

It's called Advanced at Home, a new program from UNC Health that helps to ease overcrowding in hospitals.

UNC said it has found that during the pandemic that more patients prefer the care in their home.

"We can treat congestive heart failure, pneumonia -- including COVID pneumonia, soft-tissue infections and COPD flare-ups," said Dr. Meera Udayakumar, medical director for Advanced Care at Home.

Since launching at the end of August, it has cared for 75 patients. They started the program at UNC Rex and UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill but have already expanded it to the Hillsborough campus and plan to bring it to Holly Springs.

"It is entirely possible to establish communication and a great relationship with patients even over a virtual interface," said Udayakumar.

WakeMed, Duke and UNC Health said they are prepared to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients if necessary as Omicron spreads.

WakeMed said COVID-19 patients are not the bulk of their population right now but they're seeing a lot of others who need hospitalization.

"It's really hard because we all have a little bit of PTSD from what we've been through with COVID," said Jessica Dixon, an infection prevention specialist at WakeMed. "This starts to feel like Groundhog Day like 'Gosh, we're living through it again.'"

UNC Health said it has a contingency plan for a wide variety of emergencies that would cause a surge and is "constantly planning and preparing for the next chapters in the pandemic and eventual endemic."

"Our COVID testing teams are keeping close watch for the Omicron variant, our research teams are working with various partners to determine implications for vaccines and treatments, and our clinical teams remain ready for any increase in cases and hospitalizations," UNC told ABC11. "Leadership at our hospitals across the state frequently discuss how to leverage resources as needed."

UNC said it continues to encourage everyone who is eligible to get fully vaccinated and to continue "various public safety measures," including wearing masks in indoor settings.

Underhill, meantime, has shifted his classes back to Zoom for the early part of 2022, but he's grateful to be teaching them at all and thankful for the care he got.

"I'm a big proponent of this," he said. "You're saving money, you're safer, you're at home, and friends can bring you chicken soup and you know how to work the remote on your own TV."