GLOVERSVILLE — Nathan Littauer Hospital has opened a wellness program to people suffering the long-term after-effects of COVID-19 infections.
Long-haulers, as this class of patients are called, can experience sometimes-debilitating ailments for months after the virus clears there body.
Hospital officials said The COVID Recovery Program at Nathan Littauer is not a collection of new medical services but a new combination of therapies already provided on site that are being combined and focused on wellness for the whole person, rather than a single symptom or bodily system.
“As an integrated delivery network, as a hospital that covers the expanse of primary care, emergency care, inpatient care and, most importantly wellness, we realized that we are uniquely positioned to be able to provide wellness and care for these individuals that are called COVID long-haulers,” President and CEO Sean Fadale said at a news conference Monday.
Studies indicate that one-half to three-quarters of COVID patients still have some symptoms three months after onset and about one in 10 develop Long COVID, with symptoms still present a year later.
The largest hospital in this part of the state — Albany Medical Center, a one-hour drive from Gloversville — has a post-COVID Care Clinic but Littauer found few others.
With roughly 9,000 confirmed infections to date in the hospital’s service area, Fulton, Hamilton and Montgomery counties, Littauer decided to begin the program for those who are medically stable but not able to return to the level of activity they had before their infection.
These lingering problems can include headache, mental fog, dizziness, inability to concentrate, poor sense of taste or smell, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, breathing trouble, and lung or heart inflammation.
There can also be a sense of going through the ordeal alone, said Nicole Higgins, the physician assistant who is the program leader.
“We at Nathan Littauer want to let these patients know that they’re not alone. That’s why we have created some support groups to help them as well,” she said.
Fadale said: “The hallmark of this program is that we listen, we treat, and we support.”
Part of the basis for this program is that COVID’s after-effects vary from patient to patient and are not fully understood. That’s why the treatment regimen is tailored to the patient, rather than the disease because the symptoms and their impacts spill over don’t follow a set pattern.
“The goal of this long-haul COVID wellness program is to support a whole person,” said Janis Freeman, a family nurse practitioner who is the wellness coach and instructor.
“By using this model we can provide education, collect information, make recommendations that can be provided to the patient’s primary care provider and help with continuity of care,” Freeman said.
Given the number of unknowns surrounding the disease, the hospital can’t predict the effectiveness of the program. The concept of healing vs. curing speaks to this: The goal is to help the patient fully return to their pre-infection baseline, but if progress stops short of that it is still progress.
Higgins said Littauer will not turn away uninsured patients but will try to enroll them in insurance while they are receiving treatment.
“We would never turn anybody away if they were uninsured,” she said. “We would help get the right program for them and see and treat them like any other patient.”
Littauer admitted its first COVID-positive inpatient on April 1, 2020. There have been some lulls, but for most of the medical community, the effort since then has been mostly full-out treatment, Fadale said, with less ability to focus on post-COVID symptoms.
“A lot of this was that we were chasing something or trying to get ahead of something that was on the verge of not going out of control but pretty close,” he said.
The vaccine has given a chance to devote more attention to the aftermath of treatment.
“This is the next logical evolution,” said Fadale, noting that the model and platform being created with The COVID Recovery Program will have uses for the treatment of other chronic and long-term ailments at Littauer.
“This is a path forward.”