The practice of visiting nurses has been around for years, but it’s become more popular since the outbreak of COVID-19.

“We’re able to assess the home and social determinants of care and what the needs are outside of just medical care,” said Hometown Health Centers Chief Medical Officer Dr. Cristine Espinosa.

In an effort to keep patients safe during the pandemic, the medical facility also added telemedicine services in March.

“We knew telemedicine was going to come,” said Espinosa. “We didn’t it know it was going to come now.”

It proved to be effective, but Espinosa and her team quickly realized some patients were missing out.

“Especially elderly patients and those with chronic diseases [were missing out],” she said. “They told us, 'you know what, we don’t have access to telemedicine,' 'we don’t have access to a smartphone,' or 'we don’t know how to use it.' ”

Hometown Health Centers quickly introduced a hybrid approach: a team of visiting nurses and telemedicine. Using a secure connection and other technology, the nursing team connects patients with their doctor to discuss their condition and medical needs.

Paul Coward in Schenectady is just one patient making use for the new program. The 72-year-old’s thighs and lower stomach were burned significantly after a mishap while working on a car.

After 11 days in the hospital, Coward was sent home to recover. In addition to family, visiting nurses have been his caretakers.

On Monday, nurses Shirley Deluca and Karalyne Cagnina visited Coward for a checkup. After the nurses collected his vitals, they connected Coward with Espinosa on the computer. And after a brief exam, Espinosa prescribed Coward with a cream to promote more healing.

This was his second time visiting Espinosa remotely. It’s something he never thought he’d see.

“It was kind of weird. Kind of different, you know?” he said. “But it’s very effective.”

Only a few patients took advantage of the service initially, but now there are more than 300. And as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the world, Espinosa says there is room to grow.

“Immunization rates in children have fallen drastically,” she said. “We’ve focused on our elderly. We haven’t really focused on our kids.”

Coward is well on his way to a full recovery and is looking forward to being on his own again soon.