BC is taking its long-running COVID clinics online and removing access to their doctors
Lynne Davies loved to dance. She would take lessons every day. She was also an avid hiker and cyclist.
Then, on February 2, 2022, everything changed. Davies contracted COVID-19 and eventually developed a long illness with COVID, a condition with more than a hundred symptoms that can be devastating for some.
“It’s one of those dates that you always remember,” Davies said.
Davies was referred to Vancouver General Hospital’s Post-COVID Rehabilitation Clinic, an interdisciplinary program that brings together a team of experts including doctors, nurses, social workers and physical therapists. It also offers educational resources and courses to patients.
However, that will soon change.
The provincial health authority [PHSA] has confirmed it will be closing its four regional post-COVID clinics and moving to a centralized, virtual program in late March. Patients no longer have access to a doctor, according to a post-COVID recovery clinic letter sent to a patient and reviewed by CBC News.
People with long COVID — sometimes referred to as long-distance commuters — are concerned they are losing resources that should help them find answers and support for a still-mysterious condition.
“It’s so disappointing,” said Davies, who has suffered from headaches, body aches, extreme fatigue, rashes and post-exercise discomfort.
“We need more doctors and must not cut back on the resources we already have.”
Around 4,000 people are being treated and supported at BC’s post-COVID rehabilitation clinics
A centralized, virtual program
There are currently four post-COVID rehabilitation clinics operating in BC, one in Vancouver, one in Victoria and two in the Fraser Valley.
After the transition, the entire program will be run virtually.
It will continue to provide educational resources and self-management tools from a team of experts that patients have found most beneficial, according to the PHSA.
BC Health Secretary Adrian Dix says there is no longer demand for the regional clinics as referrals have fallen from 755 in May 2021 to 80 referrals in recent months.
Creating a centralized, virtual system, he says, will allow the province to better support the program.
“It expands those services, expands research, expands education… and that becomes a lasting investment,” Dix said.
Patients can no longer meet with doctors
In current clinics, patients would meet with a doctor every few months.
According to the letter, that will no longer be an option. Instead, they were advised to see a general practitioner or an outpatient clinic.
It’s an alternative that Davies says is misguided.
“I’m lucky because I have a GP … who’s very good and very supportive, but she has very little knowledge of any of this [long COVID] because it’s just a tiny part of what she does,” she said.
Adriana Patino has been suffering from Long COVID for more than 25 months. She is the admin of the lengthy Facebook group COVID Canada, which has more than 3,500 members.
She says many long-distance drivers do not have a GP as the province is currently facing a critical shortage and GPs are not always aware of long COVID as it is such a new condition.
According to Doctors of BC, it is estimated that almost a million people in BC do not have access to a family doctor
“Leave the doctors available. You need to have doctors available for patients,” she said.
Both women agree that access to doctors who specialize in long COVID is vital to their recovery.
Education in focus
While the announcement drew criticism from many endurance drivers, some people, like Cathy Williams, see it as the program that prioritizes its most beneficial elements.
Williams entered the post-COVID rehabilitation clinic more than a year ago. Since then, she has found the educational resources and courses incredibly helpful in understanding her condition.
Much of the program, she says, has already been delivered online.
“If they pull the doctors out of the program, I don’t think it’s going to hurt the program that much because it’s about learning how to manage what you have and how to move on with life. ‘ Williams said.
However, she says she has a family doctor to turn to, an unattainable luxury for many BC long-distance riders.