Whitesburg KY

Patients face new regulations as they return for doctor visits

There won’t be any stale, waiting-room magazines or sitting next to someone who coughs constantly when patients return to doctors’ offices this week.

In fact, there won’t be waiting rooms at some facilities.

Letcher Countians began seeing their doctors face-to-face this week for the first time in more than a month after Gov. Andy Beshear signed an order releasing some COVID-19 restrictions.

Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation is still working on whether and how to open its dental clinic because of the nature of dental treatment, but other offices are open.

Optometrist Dr. Debbie Williams posted a notice on her social media page that she has made changes to her Mountain Vision Center office and procedures to make it more virus-safe, and will also be reopening. The Appalachian Regional Hospital Clinic in Whitesburg has also reopened, along with diagnostic imaging. Elective procedures are still not being done.

MCHC Chief Executive Officer Mike Caudill said patients there will likely remain in their cars until their doctor is nearly ready for them, and then will be called into a waiting room. Telehealth appointments, which were begun when the coronavirus forced the stoppage of non-essential health services, have become popular with patients and Caudill said those will still continue to be an option.

“The patient is going to come out ahead in this, and we’re going to have a lot more options,” Caudill said. “We’re working hard to make sure all the health care that has been put off is taken care of.”

Medical providers will continue to exercise additional precautions and patients will not be allowed to wait inside the clinics.

“We’re starting to see some. We’re still seeing a lot of the people by telehealth, which is encouraged,” said Dr. Faris Khater, an infectious disease specialist at MCHC. “We’re still maintaining social distancing. All visitors are wearing masks, and all providers are wearing masks, and we have done away with the waiting rooms. Patients have to wait in the car until they are called.”

Khater said the clinics are also testing more people, including doing drive-through testing. Patients who are symptomatic are asked to contact the clinic for a telehealth visit first, then be tested without leaving their car.

Dr. Maria Braman, chief medical officer for Appalachian Regional Healthcare, said the hospital chain has rearranged waiting rooms so no chairs are within six feet of each other, and have moved most waiting outside to the parking lots.

“One thing we have adopted now, while living in this pandemic, is universal masking,” Branham said. “All our employees are screened daily for COVID, and all our visitors are screened.”

That screening includes taking temperature and asking question about the visitors’ travel.

System-wide, ARH has had 16 patients test positive for COVID-19, and one patient died at Tug Valley.

Branham said while she encourages social distancing, some have taken it to the extreme, avoiding doctor visits even for life-threatening illnesses. She cited one patient who waited to have a pain in her abdomen checked until her appendix ruptured.

“People are waiting too long now to come in because they’re scared, and I understand that,” she said.

Kentucky has tested 48,799 people out of a population of 4.4 million, or about 1 percent. Of those, 4,145 have tested positive, and 213 have died. Dr. Khater said those number could rise as the businesses begin to reopen.

“I hope not, but with reopening health care in the beginning, and opening the economy down the road, we’re going to see blips down the road. We have to maintain social distancing as we reopen the economy to keep these numbers down, Khater said. “If we do see a surge as we reopen, we have to go back to social distancing as we are now and start closing things down again.”

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