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People’s Health Clinic continues providing service to patients amid pandemic

Jeff Dempsey
The Park Record
Family practice providers Rachelle Flinn, P.A., left, and Jon Hanrahan, M.D. continue to see a majority of their patients, albeit virtually, via tele-medicine calls on Zoom video conferencing. (Tanzi Propst/Park Record)
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

The coronavirus pandemic has forced nonessential businesses in the U.S. to close their doors and essential ones to make major adjustments, but the health care sector has been one of the industries most affected. An influx of patients related to COVID-19 has stressed the health care system in many communities.

In Summit and Wasatch counties, the community can turn to the People’s Health Clinic.

The nonprofit clinic provides no-cost medical services to uninsured residents of Summit and Wasatch counties. Notably, the clinic sees patients who would otherwise have little choice but to go to a hospital’s emergency department and, in the age of coronavirus, any stress relief for hospitals is crucially important.

Executive Director Beth Armstrong said it’s been business as usual at the clinic — sort of.

“We are now seeing more than 75% of our patients via telemedicine,” she said. “We started doing this even before the county lockdown.”

Like many businesses or organizations, People’s Health Clinic has taken additional measures to ensure those who walk through its doors are safe. Wearing a mask is mandatory, as is sanitizing hands before entry.

The clinic, like seemingly all health care providers, has struggled to secure personal protective equipment, however.

“Prior to the pandemic, providers did not wear masks or gloves into each room. They now do, and change after every patient,” Armstrong said. “We are going through a huge amount of PPE both for the safety of the patient and the provider. Prior to the pandemic we received most of our supplies as reduced or no cost. Now, we are paying a premium for the same supplies.”

One major change the clinic has had to make is with its volunteer staff, which Armstrong said has been eliminated entirely for the time being.

“We are a volunteer-driven nonprofit so this is a huge change for us,” she said. “We are leaning a great deal on our paid providers and utilizing volunteer physicians for patient visits when they can do so via telehealth.”

The clinic’s experience with COVID-19 patients has been minimal, Armstrong said, though she can’t provide specifics due to HIPAA guidelines.

“We have had some patients that have come into the clinic COVID-19 positive, but we have stringent procedures in place to assure we have mitigated the risks of having them in clinic,” she said.

The clinic is not accepting walk-in patients, another major change. It is screening patients when scheduling appointments to try to determine if that person needs to be tested for COVID-19. The clinic itself is not testing for the virus.

“If we determine they should be tested, we send them to be tested prior to making an appointment at the clinic,” Armstrong said. “It has been rare for someone to come into the clinic for a scheduled appointment to be diagnosed separately as potentially COVID positive.”

As a primary provider of medical care for the uninsured in Summit County, the People’s Health Clinic has always struggled to reach those who need care but are hesitant to seek it out, Armstrong said.

“This crisis has just exacerbated that hesitation,” she said. “Our goal during this crisis is to see as many people as possible, trying to keep them out of the emergency department so that hospitals don’t become overrun. We have remained open throughout and want our patients to know that it is safe and we are here for them.”

In order to better serve those who need immediate care, the clinic has pushed its well-patient appointments to later in the summer and delayed annual screenings. It is also asking patients not to bring their families with them to appointments and has staggered appointments to avoid having more than one patient in the lobby at a time. Caution, Armstrong said, is the guiding principle.

“We ask patients to wait in their cars if they are having any COVID-19 symptoms and we take them directly from the door to a room, skipping the front desk and vitals room,” she said. “The same room is used for COVID-positive patients and cleaned prior to and after every use.”

Armstrong said the clinic will keep its current safety policies in place through the rest of 2020. It is also making extra efforts to provide the usual care to the community.

“We were concerned that our younger children were skipping their immunizations so we are having an immunization clinic on May 27,” she said. “This will be a drive-through clinic; the kids won’t come into the building.”

If that effort proves successful, Armstrong said the clinic will schedule another one for just before the next school year begins.

Armstrong stressed that the People’s Health Clinic will remain open to those who need care. The clinic may, however, need the help of the community to do it.

“We have canceled our spring fundraiser and possibly will need to also cancel our fall fundraiser. These two alone count for 20% of our annual budget.”


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