Long COVID patients urge B.C. to reconsider planned clinic closures

Some patients with long COVID are calling on the B.C. government to hold off on closing down in-person specialized clinics. The province is planning to shift to an online clinic as of March 31, closing five physical regional clinics. Angela Bower hears from a couple of Long Covid patients on how the closures will affect them.

Some patients with long COVID are calling on the B.C. government to hold off on closing down in-person specialized clinics.

It comes with the province planning to shift to a virtual alternative as of March 31, in the process shuttering five physical regional clinics.

Since contracting COVID in March 2020, Richmond resident Lorraine Graves has a fraction of the energy she once had, and has breathing and cognitive issues among other symptoms.

She wants the depth of care an in-person specialized clinic could provide. Graves says her doctor had referred her to the clinic at Vancouver General Hospital but there was a nine-month waiting list.

“The problem is without these specialized clinics where they can do all the tests at once and find the people that have the lung issue that needs treatment, the heart issue that needs treatment, all these things — even just telling us there’s things you can do about the dry mouth and eyes,” Graves told CityNews in an interview. “We’re going to doctors [in the community] who in many cases know nothing about it. Some say they don’t believe in it.”

Delta resident Heather Narod’s quality of life has also been hammered by long COVID. The former nurse says she has about two good hours a day but largely has to rest due to how exhausted she is constantly.

“The gaps that I see are the lack of personal relationship,” Narod said in an interview when discussing the planned clinic closures. “It’s virtual, so you know, you’re in a group. It’s different when you’re sitting with people that have the same condition, and you can share on a personal level and speak to them and hear them and have feelings. I feel these clinics were really helpful for people to feel, to have some socialization as well.

“The big thing about long COVID is it’s very isolating because you have to rest so much.”

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According to the province — the number of patients referred to the in-person clinics has plummetted by 80 to 90 percent in recent months — and that factors into the decision.

“Clinicians came to [us] with a recommendation — that this is how we can best deliver the services — and we support that recommendation,” read part of a statement sent by B.C.’s health ministry. “We’re also increasing our investment in both clinical care, research and supports for long COVID. We’re the only province that has a Post-COVID-19 Interdisciplinary Clinical Care Network, and we’re making that a permanent investment. Post-COVID services are in the base budget for COVID-19 contingencies through the Ministry of Health, and we’re expecting the budget to increase by about $2.5 million, which is a significant increase.”

In a separate statement, the Provincial Health Services Authority also said the decision was made after a survey of patients.

But for Graves, Narod and other long COVID patients interviewed by CityNews — they feel let down by what they consider a downgrade to their long COVID care.

“I’ve gone from being a vital participant in life, running with the wind in my hair, to a little old lady who sits and watches the world go by,” Graves said. “That’s not my nature. As I keep saying, we’re not pretending to be sick. We’re pretending to be well. And after talking to you, I will have to go to bed for the rest of the day. Just thinking too hard, I start getting bleeds under my skin, I can’t breathe, I can’t think. My life has been amputated.”

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