Guest Commentary: Boots on the Ground

By Melissa Marshall, MD

As our community shelters in place, I would like to publicly commend our healthcare workers for their tireless dedication in these trying times. At CommuniCare Health Centers, we are accustomed to working in an environment of limited resources and great need. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were also scrambling to respond to other threats to our funding and services; two examples being the public charge rule – which is causing fear and disinformation for our patients – and the loss of our Title X funding which supports our drop-in Teen Clinic, as well as comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education for 4500 students across Yolo County.

And now COVID-19. As a steward of public health, we are rapidly responding, transforming our systems to protect our patients and community. Patients are being screened for symptoms, travel, and exposure upon arrival to our health centers. We have purchased outside tents to evaluate patients with concerning symptoms or exposures. We hired fill-in nurses to staff a triage line. And we began the move to telehealth. We are substituting telephone visits when possible, particularly at first for at-risk populations, and now for other visit types. Following direction from our County partners, we are working to transition the majority of behavioral health and substance use visits to telehealth. Finally, in alignment with the California Dental Association, we made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend all non-urgent dental services.

Meanwhile, school closures mean that many of our co-workers are challenged in finding childcare. Despite this challenge, our employees remain committed to our mission and our community. As we support efforts to flatten the curve through social distancing, we project losses in patient visits and revenues to be staggering. We worry how we continue to support our employees who may need to be furloughed if there is no work, as in the case of our dental team. As we face the days and weeks ahead, we know that our healthcare workforce may grow weary. Your support and your efforts to follow recommendations to shelter in place will make a difference. CommuniCare Health Centers has always had the good fortune of tremendous community support. We will continue to need this support as we move forward in managing this public health crisis. We are heartened by the fact that, as a community, we are in this together.

Melissa Marshall is the CEO of CommuniCare Health Centers

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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