Physical therapy providers in St. Mary’s have been finding ways to at least continue treating the patients who need them the most during the coronavirus pandemic, despite having to limit their operations.
Michael O’Brien of Freedom Physical Therapy in Mechanicsville told The Enterprise last week COVID-19 has had a “severe impact” on the operations of his practice, and patient volumes have been down between 50% and 60% since the beginning of April.
Rather than being open for the usual five days a week, the office has been opening around four days a week. O’Brien said his staff have been following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines by wearing gloves, face masks and sanitizing surfaces as much as possible.
O’Brien said he has noticed more patients coming in with issues potentially caused by the responses put in place to stem the pandemic, such as neck and back pain caused by people working remotely or doing online classes at a less then ideal work station at home, and foot and knee issues from people being more physically active.
While they have the capability to provide telehealth, a service which allows doctors to interact with patients online via video call, he said they haven’t seen much interest yet from patients. He “recommends people reach out about starting an exercise program or scheduling an online consultation” and mentioned “most health insurances cover telehealth for physical therapy.”
Samantha Strickland of Ultimate Physical Therapy in Leonardtown said their office went from being open five days a week for 12 hours a day down to two days a week for about four or five hours a day. When they are open, a limited number of therapists are kept on-site to comply with social-distancing guidelines and front desk staff are performing their duties from home.
“Even before the pandemic we always sanitized the equipment between patients, asked patients to use hand sanitizer before and after the appointment and we wash our hands between patients,” she said. “Now we are washing our hands intermittently throughout the treatments, wearing masks, asking patients to wear masks and limiting how many people are allowed in the clinic at one time.”
She mentioned “we feel absolutely horrible having to stop treatments for most of our patients, however, we are still treating patients that had surgery just prior to COVID-19 or have had an injury requiring surgery.”
Ultimate Therapy is offering telehealth services, although, they aren’t “as popular” as Strickland thought they would be. She said her office averages “six or seven appointments a week,” but “there is a lot we can do,” as far as education and exercises. Feedback has indicated patients believe telehealth is not the same as hands-on treatment, but its a nice alternative available to keep at home and safe, she said.
Personalized Therapy in California offers five different types of services including physical therapy, occupational therapy, personal therapy, counseling and applied behavioral analysis, which puts them in “a different boat than most” other physical therapy facilities in the county, according to Jennifer Tennyson, business operations director and ABA clinical supervisor at the clinic. She said applied behavioral analysis services are being offered as an in-home service on a limited basis, “which people are appreciative of.”
Tennyson said Personalized Therapy has a number of locations in Maryland and all of them had stopped offering in-patient services due to COVID-19 on April 8. Offices gradually closed from the beginning of the crisis and staff began working remotely as soon as possible, she claimed.
Last Friday, the clinics reopened for physical therapy appointments, and are only seeing one patient at a time.
Telehealth services are being offered through the facility as a “good alternative,” she said, “but some aren’t interested.”
Although they serve three counties, they are still a small business, Tennyson said, and it’s been a struggle not being able to serve as many patients as before, especially after getting to know some of them so well.