Outer Cape Health Services, the major provider of health care for the four Outer Cape towns, continues to operate its three clinics with reduced hours, staffing, and salaries, a result of the coronavirus-related financial crisis that medical organizations across the country are facing. Questions about OCHS’s current services and capacity, its financial status, and its future that were submitted by the Independent this week elicited some answers from medical and management staff.
The three clinics, in Provincetown, Wellfleet, and Harwich, currently offer urgent care, preventive care for children, and management of chronic diseases, especially for those most at risk, said Kathleen Weiner, chief development and communications officer. Two-thirds of current visits with clinicians are conducted online via teleconference, she said.
“Walk-in service is very much discouraged to limit unexpected exposure and allow for pre-visit screening,” said Chief Medical Officer Andrew Jorgensen.
In late March, OCHS Executive Director Patricia Nadle made an emergency appeal to donors, warning that “the funds are simply not available to serve our community as we have for decades,” and suggesting that one of the three clinics might have to be closed. This week OCHS senior staff member Gerry Desautels, when asked if the organization was still considering closing one clinic, said, “Not at this time.”
Neither Weiner nor Desautels would give specifics on the success of the recent fund-raising effort other than Weiner’s comment, “We live in a generous community where the support of our neighbors has made a meaningful difference.”
Other questions from the Independent and OCHS responses follow:
Q: When do you anticipate being able to resume routine non-urgent appointments?
Dr. Jorgensen: We anticipate resuming routine physical exams during a later phase of reopening when directed by the Mass. Dept. of Public Health (DPH). Routing non-urgent appointments, for well controlled diabetes, for example, are currently provided by telehealth. We will continue to offer telehealth options even when we also provide this service in person in a later opening phase.
Q: What is your current policy about providing Covid-19 tests? Who is eligible?
Desautels: DPH has expanded the criteria for who should be tested for Covid-19 to include all symptomatic individuals (even with mild symptoms) as well as close contacts of positive individuals.
Q: Can anyone get a test?
Desautels: Anyone can access us for testing but we require any individual to first have a phone consult with an OCHS provider to discuss symptoms and make a determination for testing.
Q: How many tests have you done in the past week?
Desautels: About 60.
Q: Is the number of tests you are doing going up or down, or staying about the same?
Desautels: Staying about the same.
Q: You recently announced that you are part of a contact tracing collaboration. How does it work? Are you using technology and/or trained interviewers to do this work?
Weiner: We are partnering with Partners in Health (PIH) to do contact tracing. The program has allowed us to bring back some of our furloughed staff and dedicate them to this effort. PIH is training and managing the tracers.
Q: We have noted news reports about a significant drop-off in immunizations around the world. How is OCHS’s immunization project going?
Scott R. Weissman, OCHS clinical director of practice development: Our pediatric immunization rates are being closely monitored. During the initial Covid shutdown, we accommodated children under two years old for their well-child visits. In following the commonwealth’s phased re-opening guidelines, we are welcoming back all other pediatric patients for routine care.
This past week we launched our proposed social media account focusing on pediatric immunizations and health. Based on our parent/caregiver survey data, we gleaned that while all of the respondents trusted their child’s primary care clinician, approximately half of the parents/caregivers got their pediatric health information from social media. Our Instagram account (@outercapekids) is curated by the OCHS Wellfleet family medicine team and features a weekly evidence-based article that is abstracted to appeal and be easily interpreted by our audience.
Q: Will you provide services to people who are not already signed up with OCHS for primary care?
Weiner: Our mission is to provide a full range of health care and supportive social services that promote the health and well-being of all who live in or visit the 10 outermost towns of Cape Cod.
Q: A local resident reports that her 15-month-old granddaughter who is visiting her was denied a needed immunization at OCHS because she had never before been seen by anyone there. Is that correct?
Desautels: We cannot comment on any specific patient information. Any individual can reach our patient access center for assistance and clarification on available services and scheduling at 508-905-2888.