Weeks or even months after people fell ill from COVID-19, thousands are still suffering the lingering and debilitating effects of the disease.
The sometimes unusual and inexplicable symptoms long after a patient has supposedly recovered from the coronavirus prompted doctors at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla this summer to launch the hospital’s Post-COVID-19 Recovery Program.
Problems such as fluid around the heart, hair loss, shortness of breath, fatigue and “brain fog,” which mimics the sensation people can briefly experience immediately after waking up from a deep sleep, have all been reported as among the ongoing symptoms, said Dr. Gary Rogg, an internal medical specialist at the hospital.
Since the symptoms can be so varied, Westchester Medical Center constructed a team of designated primary care physicians and specialists to learn more about COVID-19’s aftermath and to try and alleviate patients’ symptoms.
“As time went by, it became evident that so many of these people with these symptoms are not resolving, and again, they weren’t getting any worse, but they weren’t getting significantly better,” said Rogg, a key member of the program’s medical team. “So that’s where we came to provide the ongoing care to try and close the gap in care for people.”
The primary care doctors provide the initial tests, and depending on someone’s medical history and symptoms, the person is sent to one or more specialists, Rogg said. Pulmonologists, nephrologists, cardiologists, psychiatrists and others are all part of the team, he said.
Rogg said when someone contacts the program, they are guaranteed an initial appointment at the hospital within 72 hours. Once evaluated, they are assigned a designated patient services representative and a navigator so before they leave the office, they will have their appointments for the specialists set instead of forcing participants to call each doctor on their own.
Anyone from the community who contacts the program, either by phone or online, had tested positive for the virus and is feeling long-term effects is eligible. An individual does not need to have been admitted to Westchester Medical Center or any other hospital or be part of the WMCHealth network to seek help, Rogg said.
Recently, the program has been averaging about 40 to 50 patients a week, he said.
Rogg said one pattern that has developed is patients alternately experiencing improvement in their symptoms, then a regression. When that occurs, there is often anxiety and stress, so mental health workers are among the specialists.
“What we’re looking for are secondary issues that could be compounding it, and then we’re working with psychiatry, in terms of more formal psychiatric testing, to see where the defects are, but there’s not a clear-cut ideology as to why this is happening,” Rogg said.
People of all ages have reached out to the program for help, including many relatively younger adults with no previous underlying health issues, he said. Rogg said the unpredictability of the virus has been eye-opening.
“That’s what I think frightened the general public, that you had more than sporadic cases of healthy people who wind up on ventilators or passing away, and then unlike the flu or anything else, you have these lingering symptoms,” Rogg said.
Andrew LaGuardia, senior director, network strategic communications for Westchester Medical Center, said the public should be comforted that the hospital follows all guidelines and precautions when someone arrives for a visit. Furthermore, most of the physicians involved in the program have had experience treating COVID-19 patients.
“This was one of the hardest hit areas during the spring surge here,” LaGuardia said. “Dr. Rogg and many of the physicians in this particular program have quite a lot of experience with the COVID-19 infection, its care and its aftercare. So the individuals who are part of this program have direct access to physicians with quite a lot of experience working with this.”
To contact the Post-COVID-19 Recovery Program or set an appointment, call 833-329-0095 or visit https://wmchealthnetwork.tfaforms.net/278. For more information, visit https://www.westchestermedicalcenter.org/wmchealthpostcovid19recoveryprogram.