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CenterWell Supports Houston Seniors Through a Pandemic

Senior-focused primary care physician recaps a year of helping patients’ mental, emotional and physical health.

Presented by CenterWell Senior Primary Care By Brienne Loy, M.D., Regional Medical Director of the Houston Market for CenterWell May 28, 2021

CenterWell family nurse practitioner with patient

As a practicing primary care physician and Regional Medical Director of the Houston Market for CenterWell Senior Primary Care, I have seen first-hand the physical, mental and social health effects of the pandemic on our city’s seniors. High rates of chronic disease among seniors have put them at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 infection, and Harris County has had the most COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state of Texas.

Houston’s seniors needed to isolate for much of the pandemic, leading to a series of other health concerns – notably isolation and loneliness – which have caused an increase in depression and left many struggling to meet their basic needs.

Addressing Mental Health and Social Needs
Spending time in social isolation is detrimental to anyone’s mental health, but for seniors who have a heightened fear of COVID-19 and feelings of anxiety about vaccination, it can be especially debilitating. In fact, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that close to half (46%) of older adults said that worry and stress related to the pandemic have had a negative impact on their mental health, and a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information found 80% of health care professionals reporting that the mental health of their patients worsened during COVID-19.

For CenterWell in Houston, it has been critical for us to stay connected with our patients during the pandemic to answer their questions and address their mental health and social needs. With 12 facilities in the Houston area – and another four slated to open throughout 2021 – our facilities are strategically positioned in medically underserved areas to provide greater access for all patients.  We provide a team of doctors, social workers, behavioral specialists, and other professionals all under one roof to provide comprehensive, personalized care.

The social workers assist patients with social needs, including access to healthy food and transportation assistance; behavioral specialists provide mental health services; and pharmacists help patients understand how to take their medications and minimize medication costs. With such a well-rounded team to support them, physicians are able to spend more time with each patient – on average 45 minutes per visit. That extra time allows us to develop stronger relationships with our patients so they will trust us to care for the full range of their needs.

Brienne Loy, M.D., Regional Medical Director of the Houston Market for CenterWell

Addressing Chronic Conditions
While COVID-19 has been the most visible health problem for the last year, and it requires our intense focus and collective effort, it has overshadowed other chronic diseases in the senior population. Most health care professionals (67%) reported that changes to healthcare services during the pandemic have had a moderate or severe negative effect on their patients’ chronic conditions. That’s a major problem for a population in which nearly 90% have at least one chronic health condition and more than half (63.7%) have at least two.

At CenterWell, we know that regular medical care can help seniors manage those health problems, but at the start of the pandemic, we also understood that patients might be reluctant to go to the doctor out of concern for exposure to COVID-19. That’s why we implemented alternatives that would make our patients feel safe and comfortable when visiting our centers so they would not delay care.

CenterWell offers multiple options in addition to the standard, in-person visit, including telehealth and curbside appointments, which have been embraced by patients. The strong bonds and trusting relationships formed between our clinicians and their patients have been truly successful in the continuation of care for many patients.

Vaccination, Reopening and Staying Connected
As a senior-focused primary care physician, this past year has been both challenging and rewarding. I’ve seen the pain and suffering the pandemic has caused, but I’ve also had the opportunity to provide care for seniors in need.  This experience has reminded me why I got into primary care, as it is a truly rewarding endeavor.

More than two-third of Harris County seniors are fully inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine, and this number is increasing every day.  There is a light at the end of this tunnel, and we’re ready to help Houston’s seniors return to life with loved ones.