While Ohio hospitals prepare to be busier than usual, some doctor's offices are having the opposite problem: Many patients aren’t coming in because of concerns about the coronavirus. As a result, some practices are cutting back employees hours or laying them off altogether.
Hospitals are required to cease all non-essential surgery right now, but that doesn’t mean all of health care is shut down. Under Ohio's stay-at-home order, doctor's offices are allowed to be open and operating, and residents are still able to go out for medical care.
Still, some are closing because they aren’t seeing as many patients as they used to and can’t afford to pay staff or rent. Others are staying open, just with a way smaller staff.
Dr. Pennie Marchetti, a family medicine physician, says she thinks it’s sort of ironic to be a doctor with a pretty empty practice during a pandemic.
“You’d expect to be really busy,” she says with a laugh. “That was my initial pandemic plan. It is just kind of really stunning, we won’t be seeing patients if we can help it.”
Right now, doctor's offices have one primary goal: to keep folks out of the hospital and emergency room.
Marchetti says she gets between one and three patients a day reaching out about their symptoms.
“Because of the availability of telemedicine and technology, I can assess people on the phone or through video chat to get a good idea of whether or not they’re short of breath, how often they’re coughing, and whether they meet the criteria of COVID-19,” Marchetti says. “And if they need more testing or if we should keep an eye on them.”
Chiropractor James Schramm, who runs a clinic in Upper Arlington, says he is only seeing patients who are in acute pain, and those patients cannot come in if they are experiencing any symptoms.
“We want people who are having significant back pain, neck pain coming in here, people that can’t wait,” Schramm says. “We don’t want them going to the emergency room. So that’s the biggest thing is distinguishing how severe it is.”
Schramm says they are urging patients over 60 to stay home if possible.
Like much of Ohio's workforce, the medical workforce is also seeing hours cut and employees furloughed. But there are many options open to them: The Ohio Department of Health recently sent letters to several types of health care workers to see if they're willing to work at surge sites or in the hospitals when patients peak.
“We gotta do what’s best for our state and our city right now,” Schramm says. “If they call and need help, I think as many people need to help as they can. If we can do it, pitch in and help each other, we’re going to get through this quicker. And we’re going to save lives in the process.”