By Loren Grush
It has been four days since Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast, and power has yet to return to several communities. While many residents and businesses have been impacted by the loss of power, doctors’ offices have also suffered – keeping many sick patients from seeing their primary care physicians.
As an alternative for medical treatment during these widespread power outages, patients have been turning to various walk-in clinics throughout the New England area, resulting in an overflow of patients at many of these clinics.
“We’ve been so busy here,” Dr. Michael Tugetman, a board-certified family practitioner from Doctors Express, a walk-in clinic in Hartsdale, N.Y., told FoxNews.com. “Over the last two days, we’ve had a 30 percent increase. We saw about 50 patients on Wednesday and close to 40 on Thursday.”
Dr. Ned Shami, a board-certified ER doctor and chief operating officer of CityMD Urgent Care, reported seeing a similar influx in patients. On a normal day, each of CityMD’s four Manhattan clinics see approximately 75 to 90 patients. This past week, Shami said there has been a “30 to 40 percent increase in volume.”
“We were ready for the increase,” Shami added. “We expected it, especially with so many other offices closed. We tripled and at some points quadrupled physician coverage. Normally, we have two doctors on hand – we had five at a time this week to handle the increase.”
The biggest reason for the increase, Shami explained, is that many patients are unable to see their primary care physicians, particularly those whose doctors’ offices are located in areas of Manhattan that have lost power.
“There’s a lack of access to care,” he said. “…There have been patients who couldn’t get to their normal physician’s office – especially in downtown [Manhattan], and those who were scheduled for follow-up care at NYU or other hospitals that were evacuated.”
To complicate matters, with the weather fluctuating from warm to cold and the fact that many suffer from limited heating capabilities from loss of power, Tugetman said he’s seen a significant increase in patients with sinus problems or flu-like symptoms. Many people have been stuck inside their homes or apartments, easily passing on sickness to family and friends living with them.
“Respiratory problems are common at this time of the year in general, and the cold and lack of power are certainly not helping,” Shami agreed. “We’ve seen a slight increase in respiratory complaints.”
Not only have urgent care doctors seen an influx of cold and flu – but more bizarre injuries related to hurricane cleanup have been on the rise.
“We’ve seen a lot of people with lower back pain,” Tugetman said. “We have one fellow who is a chef in a local country club, where they’re taking in a lot of people without power. He’s offering up his refrigeration, so he’s doing lifting he wouldn’t normally lift. Also a lot of people trying to lift logs in the back yard.”
“People are also coming in with mild abrasions in the cornea, from strong winds blowing stuff into their eyes,” Tugetman continued. “These are things we don’t see with any kind of frequency.”
For patients with non-life threatening injuries, such as these, Shami recommended patients either call their physicians or continue to seek out urgent care facilities, rather than going to the emergency room.
“The ER has a normal wait of about four hours,” Shami said. “Since the weekend, that wait has spiked to about seven or eight hours...Stay out of the ER for non-life threatening emergencies. Go to an urgent care center with full capabilities like board-certified physicians, X-ray and laboratory facilities onsite.”
According to Shami, even with the influx of patients, the wait times at CityMd clinics have remained surprisingly low at approximately a half hour. While medical supplies have been running low, vendors are beginning to resume operations, and clinics have been able to re-stock their supplies. Tugetman and Shami said, no matter what, doctors in the Northeast will rise to the challenge.
“We’re taking it on,” Tugetman said. “It just means working a little more efficiently, trying to triage what’s important – but everybody’s being seen. We haven’t turned anyone away. We’re all just kind of ratcheting it up a little and making sure all the patients get the help they need.”
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