Many people who test positive for COVID-19 continue to experience symptoms that require care months after they recover. These patients, known as long-distance COVID drivers, often have symptoms that last 30 days after becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2. To meet the needs of these patients, Atlantic Health System – a member of the AMA Health System Program – has set up a recovery center that focuses on long-distance COVID drivers.

In August, Dr. Steven Sheris, senior vice president of physicians at Atlantic Health and president of the Atlantic Medical Group, introduced Dr. Scott Lauter, the group’s internist and chief medical officer, suggested the development of a COVID-19 recovery center. Dr. Lautner agreed, organized a working group of clinical stakeholders, and the Atlantic COVID Recovery Center opened six weeks later in October. To date, around 300 patients with long-distance COVID symptoms have been treated at the recovery center.

“We had seen a lot of these patients from the first wave of COVID-19 and tried to help them, but we really looked at it more from the lung standpoint,” said Dr. Federico Cerrone, a pulmonary drug and sleep specialist at Atlantic Medical Group and co-director of the center. “Especially at the beginning, many of these patients were lost.”

“We see patients with PTSD, anxiety, depression, brain fog, headaches, and overwhelming fatigue that last for months,” said Dr. David Sousa, pulmonologist and intensive care doctor at Atlantic Medical Group and co-director of the center. We’ve also seen some persistent tachycardias, as well as patients who seem really healthy, but are desaturated in the last few minutes of their six-minute walk test. “

Patient-centered approach

Patient-centered approach

“When Dr. Lautner and Dr. Sheris talked about opening a COVID recovery center, we started looking at it as a more patient-centric approach,” said Dr. Cerrone. “It’s not just about lung problems, it’s about heart, neurocognitive and behavioral problems as well, while helping the patient navigate the system.”

“We’re taking a recording that examines all systems, checks people for anything we know will work after the COVID recovery, and transfers you appropriately and sees it in a timely manner,” said Dr. Sousa, adding that they have a “feedback circle” create a plan that is unique to the patient because with COVID, people experience it differently. “

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Mental health has affected everyone

Mental health has affected everyone

“We all had COVID – whether we had the virus or not – because we were all emotionally affected,” said Dr. Sheris. “There is a subset of people who manifest as either behavioral problems or physical somatic ailments attributable to the COVID trauma, if not the COVID virus itself.”

“The general post-ICU syndrome is the cognitive behavioral health and physical symptoms that the patient is experiencing. However, there is a component called PICS-F that is actually the family, friends, their social network and that what they feel, “said Dr. Sousa. “When you have a lot of these family conversations about Zoom and you can be away from the bedside, it has a huge impact on people’s support structure.”

Behavioral health peer support groups

Behavioral health peer support groups

Whether someone is a long distance COVID driver or a family member, the Atlantic COVID Recovery Center offers a virtual peer support group that meets every Wednesday. Individuals composed of peers, physicians, and other health care professionals receive support in dealing with the emotional and psychological challenges associated with COVID-19.

“When you have these patients who have confusing chronic conditions that are poorly understood, most of all they need a place to call home, a place to be seen, heard, and taken at face value,” said Dr. Volume up. “And then the team will respond to what they hear.”

“In the beginning it was really important to reassure patients that they weren’t alone and that other people were going through it and going through the same thing – it’s a long way to go,” said Dr. Cerrone, adding that “Our Peer Support” groups have done a great job of helping them. “

Related reporting

New evidence of COVID-19 long distance drivers from Italy, an early hot spot

Easy access to the program

Easy access to the program

“It’s about access, availability and the removal of barriers to care,” said Dr. Sheris. “If anything, COVID has created a lot of medical uncertainty, but it has also exposed much of the fragmentation, inequality and access to health care.”

“Even with non-COVID illnesses, patients often choose the specialist who they believe matches the symptoms they are having,” he said. “And they go from specialist to specialist until they find the right one. That is the normal rule of thumb in a fragmented healthcare system. It’s not coordinated.

“Now you take COVID when patients have vague symptoms that cannot be clearly assigned to a particular specialist,” added Dr. Sheris added, noting that in the case of long-haul COVID, they need to make an appointment with a specialist they deem necessary.

But with the Atlantic COVID Recovery Center, “We’re just telling patients, ‘If you think you are sick and you think it’s from COVID, come and see us first. We’ll help you find out, ”he said. “It’s a very empathetic program, and that’s the nature of doing it patient-centered.”

The AMA is also providing resources to help doctors manage their own mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. The AMA also offers practical health system governance strategies that need to be considered in support of their doctors and nursing teams during COVID-19.

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