Integris Health is launching a post-COVID recovery program for Oklahomans struggling with ongoing symptoms after COVID-19.
Doctors across the country are still learning about long COVID, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe as a range of symptoms that can last weeks or months after someone is infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, or can show up after the infection. The new program through Integris Health will involve medical professionals from multiple disciplines to care for Oklahoma patients with post-COVID symptoms.
It’s estimated that about 10% of people infected with the virus will become long-haulers, said Dr. Jeffrey Cruzan, president of Integris Medical Group.
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“For the state of Oklahoma right now, that’s roughly about … 45,000 people that will have long-term symptoms,” he said. “The symptoms are variable from person to person. Some people will experience fatigue, some people may have some depression — that’s very, very common, unfortunately — maybe some respiratory problems.”
Integris Health assembled a team of primary care providers, specialists and behavioral health experts for the program, which will connect patients to providers that can help them recover from their long COVID-19 symptoms.
The program has been in the works since March, said Claire Sykes Alexander, the administrative fellow who spearheaded the project. A frontline caregiver brought up the idea, and “we took her idea and ran with it,” Alexander said.
“She had noticed a need in the community for a continuum of care for these COVID long-haul patients,” she said. “A lot of them were still suffering from the side effects of the disease and they didn’t really know where to go.”
The program is based in Oklahoma City, but through telehealth visits, Integris can offer care statewide, Cruzan said.
“I want people to understand that there are individuals that are suffering for long periods of time, and there’s options available to them,” he said. “It’s not that we can all of a sudden make a quick fix … but we can provide them with some care opportunities and options so that they can see that they’re progressing and getting better.”
Symptoms aren’t just physical
The program also aims to show people suffering long-term COVID-19 symptoms that they’re not alone, Cruzan said.
“There are physical and mental aspects of this disease that people are just now beginning to understand,” he said.
Post-COVID complications can vary widely, but some common lingering symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness, brain fog, anxiety, and depression, according to Integris.
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Long COVID, according to the CDC, can happen to anyone who’s had COVID-19, even if they had a mild illness or were asymptomatic.
To be eligible for the program through Integris Health, patients must have had a previous positive COVID-19 diagnosis, be at least three to four weeks out from that initial diagnosis and still be showing symptoms or side effects of the disease.
Integris Health is only accepting insured patients for the program, but the hospital system said it’s working to expand care to all patients. To request an appointment, call 405-552-0345.