Businesses that had to scale back operations to help stop the spread of COVID-19 are beginning to reopen their doors to customers. The Globe is sharing the experiences of small-business owners and employees, in their own words, as they get back to work.
Ana Cojocaru, pulmonary and critical care specialist
PrimaCare, Fall River
In business since 1996
At PrimaCare, an outpatient clinic in Fall River, doctors have had to master a new kind of hands-off health care. After shutting down in March, the clinic began reopening in mid-May, using a combination of in-office visits and long-range telemedicine.
It was the end of March when the governor said, ‘You’re closing.’ We were not doing televisits at that time because they were not being reimbursed . . . We were technically supposed to see them in clinic. We were not paid for any telephone or even video-audio consultations with a patient. When the governor shut us down, he made the insurance companies reimburse us for any kind of treatment on the phone.
We asked each patient, if you don’t feel well or you wish to have a discussion with a doctor, a doctor will call you . . . Only 30 percent of patients decided that they wanted initially to speak to us. So basically our business was down significantly at that point. I would say about 75 percent of our employees were furloughed. But then, a few weeks later, we brought back a number because we couldn’t keep up with the phones. Later on, people had a lot of questions, especially with pulmonary complaints. We were receiving more than 300 calls per day from patients. We have up to 12 people back now, out of 20.
If I used to see 20 patients a day, now I’m seeing 15, 17, maybe sometimes 12. But these are not live visits. The majority of them are still televisits. A lot of patients are not comfortable to come back. I have to reassure them that we have undertaken all the steps to make sure we are not exposing them.
We provide masks to each patient at the entrance of our building. The patient is being screened with questions, for temperature, and we keep checking on oxygen saturation . . . If they screen positive, they are not allowed to come in. They are asked to go back into their car and we do a televisit with them. If the patient needs to be seen, we don’t want to turn the patient away. Then we have a special area, a small space that is separate from our office, with a special entrance.
After each patient we see in a room, we clean the room completely. We disinfect everything. Now we actually clean and let the cleaner sit for at least 15 minutes in each room.
I hope that this will help us with a second wave that I think unfortunately is going to be here, and I think COVID is going to be with us for over a year from now, until we get a vaccine.
Financially we are in worse shape, but I think that we are much more prepared for anything at this point, because this is the worst virus that you can imagine.