Coronavirus: What you need to know

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ECH health centers are open to safely provide the care you need

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After some changes to operating hours during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, two of Elizabethtown Community Hospital's health centers will return to a full schedule next week. All six of the hospital's community-based health centers are open and can safely provide care in person and online. We sat down with Medical Director for Primary Care Dr. Rob Demuro to learn more about what patients can expect when they return for care. 

What challenges do primary care providers face as our community gradually reopens and you welcome patients back to your office?

It’s so important for our patients to know that we want to see them and that we are doing everything we can to keep them safe. In our health centers that means enhanced precautionary measures like taking temperatures, screening for COVID symptoms, and providing a mask at the door. Appointments are staggered to limit the number of people in the waiting room -- and people can call to check in and wait in their cars if they prefer.

It may also mean that we ask patients who are at greater risk to schedule a telephone or video visit. We have to be responsible about reopening and protect vulnerable patients, like those with heart disease, diabetes, and chronic lung disease. The good news is we have plenty of options available and accommodate our patients' needs.

We invested in telehealth and started video visits to ensure we could maintain a connection with our patients. What has it been like for a provider to learn to use and guide others in using Zoom for patient visits?

Part of the reason video visits have been so important is that we are able to see our patients -- make eye contact, read expressions. Sometimes an illness, like depression, manifests itself more in the style people communicate and not so much just the words they use.  

We have gotten a lot of positive feedback about telehealth. Our patients embrace it and have asked to continue it in the future. 

Even though well-checks were postponed, you continued to see sick and more urgent non-COVID patients. Ear infections, back and shoulder pain, and infections were some of the reasons people came in. What else were you seeing?

We are probably dealing with twice as much anxiety compared to before. We have always dealt with many mental health issues, but this is much greater. The challenges people are facing affect every facet of their life. It is difficult because there is no easy escape. This has caused upheaval at home, in family interactions, and in the workplace.

How do you help people through that?

We are quite confident things will calm down. We don’t know if COVID will go completely away but we do know, eventually, its impact on our society will decrease from the current level. That allows us to be optimistic. Things will get better. We try to get people to focus on the long term and not just what feels overwhelming today.

As we reopen and more patients come in, what are you thinking about?

We are excited to see our patients. I have lived and worked here for twenty years. When you practice in a small town you really get to know your patients, and their relationships and challenges. When you are used to seeing these people and you don’t, you start to worry. To see them and to know they are doing well is such a relief.

Even more rewarding is to know that some patients have made the best of this, learning to crochet or taking up a new language. It’s incredibly reassuring to know they are not just surviving at home but actually putting this time towards making there life fuller.

Elizabethtown Community Hospital operates a network of community-based health centers across Essex County, with locations in Au Sable Forks, Crown Point, Elizabethtown, Westport, Willsboro, and Wilmington. All health centers offer next-day appointments and are accepting new patients. Walk-in and urgent appointments are available on Saturdays at the Elizabethtown Community Health Center. To make an appointment, please call the health center nearest you, or visit: https://www.ech.org/Health-Centers/.

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