NORTH LAWNDALE — Saint Anthony Hospital’s doctors hope they can show patients they can safely start seeing their doctors while social distancing with a new outdoor pediatric care clinic.
Young patients now can visit Little Tony’s Outdoor Wellness Clinic, decorated with plants to make it a cheerful and kid-friendly environment. Kids enter the outdoor clinic one to two at a time while parents stay in their cars to keep exposure to a minimum.
The precautions at Saint Anthony and most other health centers have ensured there is no added risk of exposure to coronavirus, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Romeen Lavani.
The risk of spreading COVID-19 is also much lower outside, where there is better airflow and more space for social distancing, Lavani said.
“We are the first one to do it. It’s very innovative. It seems like so far, [it] is going well. Seems to be a hit. So we can always expand to adults,” Lavani said.
The fear of being exposed to COVID-19 has led many to rely mostly on telemedicine, Lavani said. Though telemedicine is extremely useful, there are still many instances where doctors need to be physically present to diagnose and offer medical advice, Lavani said.
Some patients have avoided visiting the doctor during the pandemic until their health has significantly deteriorated, Lavani said. He said it is critical to help patients feel safe so they come in for a checkup now that new coronavirus cases are falling.
“The last week or two, we’re seeing patients that are extremely sick. They just could not wait any longer. Ideally, one should not wait that long. But it’s understandable the fear that they have,” Lavani said.
In particular, “children’s’ health got put on the back burner,” Lavani said. And though young people are generally healthier and less at risk for COVID-19, many kids have now fallen behind on their immunizations.
“We protected them from COVID. But now they are susceptible to other viruses and other infections for which we have vaccines readily available,” Lavani said.
Claire Sorenson, Saint Anthony’s clinical coordinator of pediatrics, got the idea for the outdoor clinic when brainstorming creative ways to get kids back into the doctor’s office and help maintain herd immunity. Herd immunity is when a large enough portion of the population is vaccinated that even those who are not vaccinated are extremely unlikely to be exposed to or infected by a disease.
Herd immunity already has started to slip among kids, Sorensen said.
Sorensen said the clinic will help make sure children aren’t skipping their immunizations over the summer before going back to school.
“That really creates a higher risk for kids who can’t get those vaccines for medical reasons,” Sorensen said. “So if you think about kids with immunosuppression, or allergies to components of the vaccines, they’re now at a higher risk because there are more of their classmates who don’t have those vaccines.”
Sorensen said their innovative outdoor clinic is a model that can be replicated by other medical centers.
“We hope we can inspire some other medical centers to think creatively about ways to target their populations that maybe being missed right now,” Sorensen said.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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