People’s Health Clinic says the uninsured are vulnerable in event of coronavirus outbreak
As the novel coronavirus continues to sweep across the globe, health officials are asking those who fear they’re infected with COVID-19 to call health care providers before showing up at an emergency room or clinic to avoid spreading the disease to other patients or medical staff.
For health care providers who focus on uninsured or under-insured communities like the People’s Health Clinic, the situation sheds light on the inequities in medical care and the way diseases hit those who have less money with outsized force.
Beth Armstrong, the executive director of the nonprofit clinic, which serves uninsured people in Summit and Wasatch counties, said the lack of effective treatments for the virus would leave the clinic’s patients little practical ability to follow the current recommended best practice of self-quarantining at home for two weeks should they come down with symptoms of the virus.
“If they don’t go to work, they don’t receive income,” Armstrong said of the patients the clinic serves. “You and I can call in sick, use sick time, vacation time. Our patients don’t have that luxury. … If they don’t go to work, they don’t buy dinner for their families.”
Some congressional lawmakers have introduced bills requiring employers to offer paid sick leave to their employees, but there are questions about the likelihood of the bills’ passage and how the policies would be implemented.
Armstrong said her clinic is already taking measures to protect against the outbreak, though the situation seems to change every few hours.
Before patients enter the lobby of the building the clinic shares with the Summit County Health Department, a fluorescent piece of paper warns people to stop if they have symptoms consistent with the novel coronavirus and directs them to put on a mask and gloves.
Armstrong said the clinic is requesting patients call before arriving if they have these symptoms so it can better coordinate care. The clinic’s phone number is 435-333-1850.
She said the clinic is hoping to use more telemedicine appointments to avoid people gathering at the clinic, but there are some exams that must be done in person, like examining an expectant mother.
The clinic is using a little-used exam room to effectively isolate patients who have respiratory symptoms, and those patients are seen by medical staff rather than volunteers.
The nonprofit maintains a small staff, and Armstrong said if only a few are infected and have to quarantine themselves for two weeks, it might force the clinic to suspend operations.
“This virus doesn’t discriminate. You can be poor or wealthy — it doesn’t discriminate,” Armstrong said. “I don’t know what the answer is other than if you don’t feel good, don’t go to work.”
There were no confirmed coronavirus cases in Summit County as of Tuesday afternoon. There have been two confirmed cases statewide, one in Davis County and another within the Weber-Morgan Health District.
For more information about symptoms of the coronavirus and how to protect yourself, click here.
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