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North Coast Family Health Center Finding New Ways to Safely Care for Patients During the Pandemic


Monday, June 8, 2020 (Fort Bragg, CA) -- As an essential healthcare provider, North Coast Family Health Center has been up and running during the pandemic. Although operations may look a bit different than normal.

From calling ahead for urgent appointments to virtual visits, phone consultations and even car-side service, the clinic continues to look for ways to serve patients while protecting staff and doing their part to prevent the spread at the same time.

The clinic has changed some of the way they do things, including reducing times spent in the waiting room. For some patients, depending on their needs, the waiting room could be the front seat of their vehicle.

Clara Slaughter, practice administrator for the clinic says they started offering car-side appointments to help those who may not feel comfortable with an in-person visit or don’t have the tools needed for virtual or phone visits. “We wanted to offer them options to get care while keeping their safety in mind. While some still prefer in-person visits, others feel more comfortable with virtual ones. But because of our rural area, sometimes there can be challenges with technology or connectivity or just their level of experience when it comes to using the technology. We tailor their appointments to their needs.”

Slaughter says patients have been appreciating the car-side appointments, especially for those non-urgent but still important health needs. “It’s a way to see them in person, but without having them wait in the lobby or being taken inside and exposing them to other patients and staff. It also allows our providers to ask them questions, check in with them and for them to ask questions they may have.”

Elizabeth Levine, MD, internal medicine specialist she has found the car-side visits very valuable. “I find these visits to connect with them and get to see how they are doing. I also get to check their vitals and see them physically and notice things that I normally would in during an in-office visit.”

For those who prefer in-person visits, Slaughter says they are taking extra precautions to keep everyone safe. Waiting rooms have been reconfigured to allow social distancing. Visitors are also limited and only allowed during certain exceptions such as for pediatric patients or those who need extra support getting to their appointments. Staff and patients are all screened prior to entering the facilities. Staff are also doing more cleaning and disinfecting to prevent the spread of the virus. In accordance with the public health order, all patients and staff are asked to wear a mask prior to entry to help protect everyone.

“For those who are coming in, we encourage them to call ahead so we can protect them, as well as our staff and other patients and we can tailor their visit to their needs,” she adds.

The clinic typically sees about 117 patients a day prior to the pandemic. In the three weeks or so, the clinic has seen 1,469 patients, 525 of those are in person, 568 are phone or virtual visits and 376 are car-side appointments.

“We’ve had to be flexible and it’s a different way of doing things, but our team wants to do the right thing for our patients, and we want to keep being there for our community,” adds Slaughter.

Zoe Berna, MD, family medicine physician says it’s important that patients know they can still get care and that they shouldn’t put off getting care because of safety concerns. “Postponing health care can have numerous complications: minor issues can become more complex to treat, and issues from chronic conditions such as diabetes, COPD, or high blood pressure can become more difficult to manage. A check-in visits with your primary care provider to be sure that your numbers and symptoms are under control is always a good thing. We want our community to know that they don’t have to delay their care for fear of getting the virus or because they think it’s not an ‘essential’ service.”

“We want our community to know that they don’t have to put off their healthcare, especially preventative care, just because we have a pandemic. We are here for them through this health challenge and all other healthcare needs they might have. Their health and safety have always been our priority. And that doesn’t change just because we have a pandemic. We are here for you, when you need us,” she adds.

North Coast Family Health Center is located at 721 River Drive, Suite A in Fort Bragg. To make an appointment, please call (707) 961-4631.