By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Social distancing may curtail the spread of COVID-19 -19, but it brings its own drawbacks, one of which is the hesitancy of many seniors in seeking care from their providers for ongoing conditions.
Considering the higher risk seniors have of contracting COVID-19 -19, some concern is warranted — and that is the take-away message that has made a deep impression on many older adults who have chosen to stay home as much as possible during the pandemic.
Though initially providers wanted to delay non-urgent care, COVID-19 -19 is now better understood, infection rates are down and providers know how to reduce the risk of transmission.
Jennine Sauriol is WNY regional director for admissions and marketing for Centers Health Care, parent company for Ellicott Center and Buffalo Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing. She said that specialists can come into the centers to see patients for routine matters.
“The only thing they’re going out for is a real specialty type of visit,” she said. “Those were shut down for a while on the physician’s office end of things. Now that has opened up, some have been apprehensive about going out. Once we give them reassurances and make sure they’re comfortable, they’ll want to go.”
While taking residents’ concerns seriously, it is also important to balance caution over COVID-19 with health maintenance. News stories with dramatic accounts of sickened seniors and climbing infection and death rates may make staying home the better idea until the pandemic goes away. However, Sauriol tells older adults to not further delay their doctor’s visits, as “it is better to go now than waiting until there is something really wrong,” Sauriol said. “We’ll provide you with a mask and make sure you have hand sanitizer or you can wear gloves as well.”
Geri Robinson is the administrator at Park Creek Senior Living Community, which provides assisted living and memory care in Williamsville. She said that staff has been encouraging residents to keep up with their regular doctors’ visits so that chronic conditions and maintenance prescriptions remain well-managed.
“We talk with the doctor’s offices about what they’re doing for safety so we can reassure residents and their families,” Robinson said. “They need to go to those doctor’s visits now in case we get shut down again for flu or COVID-19 and they can’t get out for another three or five months. I encourage them to get their dental visits, podiatrist visits and any other visits they need.”
She added that overall, the residents seem to trust their judgement that it is safe to go to doctor’s visits.
“You may save someone from catching COVID-19 , but if you ignore chronic issues, you may lose them to something else,” Robinson said.
Ju Joh, a family medicine physician and associate chief medical officer with Primary Mobile Healthcare Partners in Buffalo, said that his organization has received many more request from patients who want to be seen via telemedicine.
“It’s a great opportunity to introduce them to this tech,” Joh said.
He added that visits such as for annual wellness, follow-ups and maintenance have been through telemedicine. But for those who want or need to be seen in-person, “we let them know that all our providers get tested,” Joh said. “If they’re symptomatic, they don’t go to houses and we screen patients for symptoms. If they do, we don’t want them to come into the clinic. Being able to screen over the phone has been really helpful.”
The organization has also seen a rise in demand for its behavioral health services.
Primary Mobile hopes to soon provide COVID-19 testing through a local lab in patients’ homes, through a drive-through and at a remote site downtown as additional services to patients.
“That all ties into them having services they need to be taken care of,” Joh said.