Be on Guard: EBNHC Launches Campaign for High Risk COVID-19 Patients

Dr. Jim Pedulla, Medical Director, Neighborhood PACE of East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC), said this week although the incidents of coronavirus has lessened since April and May in Massachusetts, it is still very present in the state, with hundreds of new cases every day. 

“It is thus very important that we continue to take every precaution to protect ourselves and others from the spread of this very contagious virus,” said Pedulla. 

An EBNHC Medical Staff member conducts a Telehealth visit with a Health Center Patient.

Dr. Pedulla said this is especially important for older adults, especially those older than 65,  who are at a much higher risk for becoming very sick or dying from infection. Other persons at high risk include–but are not excluded to–people with multiple chronic conditions such as cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), transplant recipients, obesity, heart disease, or diabetes. 

In response to keeping the high risk population safe, EBNHC has launched a campaign aimed at paying particular attention to the needs of the high risk community living here. While the COVID 19 pandemic has been particularly devastating for those at high risk for serious illness, the Health Center has adopted throughout the pandemic to help residents stay safe at home, stay safe while out in the community, and stay safe and feel comfortable in accessing the EBNHC’s services.

According to EBNHC Director of Strategy, Hollis Graham, RN, BSN about one quarter of all Health Center patients fall into the ‘high risk’ category. 

“A large percentage of the health center’s patients fall into the COVID-19 high-risk category,” said Graham. “We want to make sure we are doing more than meeting their health care needs. We want to make it easier for our community to access the tools needed to keep themselves safe.” 

Graham said that after months of isolation it has become apparent that it may be more risky for patients with chronic conditions to not maintain routine check ups. Graham said first and foremost EBNHC’s high risk patients should not delay care for chronic issues. She said EBNHC is taking great precautions and extra safety measures to meet the needs of high-risk patients who need to access care onsite. 

“An impressive number of medical visits can be handled virtually, either telephonically or by using a video app,” said Graham. “But for visits that do require in-person care, the health center has made safety its number one priority. In addition to routine cleaning and disinfection of facilities, all staff members, patients, and visitors are efficiently screened for symptoms before entering EBNHC sites and are reminded to always wear a mask. The health center has also reconfigured patient flow, from the number of people allowed in an elevator at one time to the speed at which patients are escorted to exam rooms after check in. The focus is on social distancing and making sure patients feel safe. EBNHC asks patients to come alone to appointments if possible to reduce crowding and contact but urges patients to seek care when needed.”

One EBNHC patient said, “I thought I was going to have to go without care for months, but I am still getting the care I need and the same quality of it, so I am really happy about that.”

Graham said the health center has a long reputation for caring for special populations. From its grassroots beginnings 50 years ago, the health center’s mission has been to invest in community wellbeing. 

“During this pandemic, the safest place for everyone, especially those among the high-risk, vulnerable population, is to stay at home,” she said. “To facilitate staying at home, EBNHC rolled out virtual medical visits, increased meals-on-wheels deliveries for senior citizens, increased American Red Cross food access, and started a door-to-door mobile vaccine clinic for pediatric patients.”

As Massachusetts reopens Graham said EBNHC, in partnership with community agencies such as Action for Boston Community Development, has launched awareness campaigns to help keep community members safe when they leave home. 

“While it is still safer to stay home, these campaigns provide resources to high-risk community members to help keep them safe if and when they venture out, such as washable, reusable face masks and fact sheets to curb COVID-19 misinformation,” said Graham. Some of these supplies are mailed directly to high-risk patients and others are distributed directly within elderly housing complexes.”

Echoing Graham, Dr. Pedulla added that high risk patients should always wear a mask (with multiple layers of fabric) in public; maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others except those you live with regularly; wash hands regularly with soap and water or alcohol based hand sanitizer for at least 20 seconds; avoid any crowded locations unless absolutely essential, and if so, always maintain mask use, six foot distancing, and hand washing; and finally don’t go out to public places if you are sick. 

“But, if you are having physical symptoms, don’t delay seeking medical care out of concerns for the virus—every precaution has been taken to protect patients, and it is important that symptoms are addressed promptly,” said Dr. Pedulla. 

If you or someone in your family would like to make an appointment, schedule COVID-19 testing, or receive information on any EBNHC’s services including elder care programs, contact the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center at 617-569-5800 or visit www.ebnhc.org.

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