Making adjustments and being flexible have become the new norm as communities worldwide face the dangers and inconveniences presented by COVID-19. Examples include public and private school students navigating assignments with parents in an interim role as teachers and visiting several stores just to acquire basic household needs such as milk, eggs, toilet paper and disinfectants. Due to changes in most aspects of everyday life, AccelHealth is doing its part to ensure medical care continues on a direct path while protecting the health of its patients.
Patients are being seen by providers without leaving their vehicles. In an effort to minimize patient and staff exposure to COVID-19, patients arriving for scheduled appointments are being greeted by a medical team for screening and pre-visit services — in the parking lot. A medical tent has been set up at each location (Brownwood, Stephenville and De Leon) with directions being given to visitors as they arrive. Exam rooms are provided for patients requiring additional services and procedures.
Esther Taylor, AccelHealth Chief Executive Officer, said patient care and safety have remained the top priorities during this pandemic. “Due to legitimate patient concerns, AccelHealth decided to establish an outside clinic reducing our patients’ exposure to COVID-19. Instead of canceling patient visits, we asked our patients if they would be willing to come to the clinic and be seen in the parking lot as an alternative. Whether it’s through outside visits, where our patients are triaged and/or treated in their vehicles, or through telemedicine, where our patients can connect to our providers, AccelHealth is stepping up to meet our patients’ healthcare needs. Our patients’ health matters greatly to all of us and we want to be there for them during this stressful time.”
Michael Cloy, PA, said adjustments were necessary as to not change the quality of care. “We recognize the need to care for patients who may be experiencing any symptoms that are of concern to them. We also realize the need to provide continuing high-quality health care to those with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease etc. As such, through inter-organizational collaboration and analysis of available data regarding the current situation regarding COVID-19, we have adjusted our usual model of health care delivery.”
Cloy also discussed the logistics of the operation. “At AccelHealth, we have designated our morning appointments, 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., to be scheduled for those with chronic conditions, either via mobile, outside of the clinic building visits, or if deemed appropriate, inside the building. We will close the building for an hour to clean between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., then resume operations from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m., with that time designated for the acutely ill patients.”
Cloy said conventional inside visits will be available when necessary and that seeing personal protective equipment is not a cause for worry. “Patients coming to our clinic will notice all staff wearing masks and protective equipment so please don’t be alarmed.” Cloy stated it is crucial to call in advance so visits can be appropriately coordinated.
Certain steps should be taken by the individual, Cloy said. “The most important things we can all do at this time are essentially to avoid close contact with those outside of our homes and workspaces (if required to work), and practice good personal hygiene, i.e. washing hands, using hand sanitizer, if you are ill stay at home, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and maintain adequate nutrition and hydration. The virus may produce very mild symptoms such as fever, cough and mild body aches. Certainly COVID-19 can cause severe illness but the majority of cases will be a relatively mild illness.”
Cloy said if symptoms are experienced, it is important to call a medical provider, the Brownwood/Brown County Health Department or the City of Brownwood Coronavirus Hotline. “It is important to call ahead,” Cloy said. “Not everyone with these symptoms may have COVID-19, but due to the risk of increasing community spread, we should consider the possibility of this virus as the culprit until further notice. The situation with COVID-19 will be rapidly changing over the next few days and weeks and the citizens of our community have the power to lessen the effect if we all act responsibly.”
Cloy also suggested avoiding retrieving information from social media. “It is best to avoid getting your information from non-medical or government resources.” Cloy said some “great” sources regarding COVID-19 are the Center for Disease Control, Texas Department of State Health Services, World Health Organization, Brownwood/Brown County Health Department and various medical school websites.
Pulling together during this time is important, Cloy said. “Brownwood and all of Brown County are known for strong sense of community and helping each other in times of need. We need to all do our part to ‘flatten the curve’ and put up our best fight and spirit to combat this disease.”
AccelHealth Chief Medical Officer Tom Byrd, who also sees patients at one of the two Brownwood locations, said establishing the process of triaging and treating (some) patients in the parking lot was a group effort. “We came up with these options in a very collaborative way involving our director of nurses, IT director, COO, and CEO. The basic goal is to see the patients who require acute care or adjustments in chronic conditions with as little social contact as possible.”
Avoiding further exposure was also included in the decision-making process. “We were very aware that if we approached the current crisis in a restrictive manner, patients could deteriorate and end up in the emergency room which could expose them to other illnesses as well as strain the resources at the hospital,” Byrd said. “The focus of outpatient care in the current season is to meet healthcare needs with as much limited contact with providers as possible and ensure no contact with other patients.”
AccelHealth is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that receives federal funding, allowing them to provide discounted healthcare services to income eligible patients. AccelHealth is a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) deemed facility, accredited by The Joint Commission, which accepts Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance. They offer sliding fee discounts, which is based on income and family size.
The clinics in Brownwood (two locations), De Leon and Stephenville provide medical, dental, behavioral health and other services in Brown, Comanche, Erath, Eastland, Mills and surrounding counties. For more information, visit Accelhealthcare.org.