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Lynn Community Health Center separating possible victims of COVID-19

By David Mclellan | March 18, 2020

LYNN — Lynn Community Health Center is clear: Call, if possible, before showing up to the health center with a fever, illness, or suspected contraction of COVID-19, a strain of coronavirus that has infected more than 100,000 and has been declared a global health emergency. 

Those who do show up to the hospital anyway will be immediately screened — asked questions about recent travel, possible contact, and symptoms of illness — then separated from those who are showing up for typical appointments. 

This separation happens at the door, and two yellow tents currently sit outside the entrance of the 269 Union St. health center to divide the sick from the healthy. 

Once in the building, those who have “screened in” and may have coronavirus are kept in a different area of the health center for evaluation, isolated from patients visiting the health center for other reasons, said health center spokeswoman Cindy Steger-Wilson. 

Right now, the health center’s goal is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines of “social distancing,” and this week the health center will be setting up “telephonic visits” for all patients with nonurgent, non coronavirus-related appointments, Steger-Wilson said. 

Patients with both medical and behavioral health needs will get a phone call about telephonic visits, Steger-Wilson said. 

“During this crisis, it is vital that our patients experience as much continuity of care as possible,” said Dr. Carlos Cappas, chief behavioral health officer. “Social distancing — although necessary at this time — is isolating and is especially challenging for those with chronic health or behavioral health issues. We want our patients to know they can still count on us to care for them.”

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Geoff Pechinsky emphasized that those with urgent health needs should still come to the health center, and it is safe to do so. 

Salem Hospital, like Lynn Community Health Center, is also trying to limit the amount of time people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus spend on hospital grounds. 

According to Salem Hospital spokeswoman Laura Fleming, Salem Hospital recommends people call the hospital and get screened for coronavirus over the phone. Those who have been phone-screened may be asked to come to the hospital for an in-person test. 

“These are patients who have already been phone-screened, scheduled, and preregistered to minimize their time on site. Patients do not get out of their cars for the testing, which is conducted by trained staff in proper protective gear,” Fleming said. “Testing includes a nasal swab sample that is secured and sent to a state-approved lab for processing.”

An in-person coronavirus testing site on the grounds of Union Hospital will be opening later this week. 

“We and our North Shore Physicians Group colleagues are planning to open a similar screening site at Union Hospital adjacent to our urgent care center later this week. Again, this would be for preregistered patients with an appointment,” Fleming said. 

With Union Hospital having closed, Lynn residents needing emergency services are now typically taken to Salem Hospital, also run by North Shore Medical Center. 

According to Fleming, there are currently no plans to altogether reopen Union Hospital due to the coronavirus and increased demand for medical services. Salem Hospital has the resources at this time to handle the number of patients it is seeing, Fleming said. 

If the coronavirus situation worsens, reopening the closed Union Hospital on Lynnfield Street is an option, Fleming said. 

“We are looking at all options to increase capacity in the event of a significant increase in the number of patients we need to care for,” Fleming said. “It would require significant resources to make Union Hospital usable, but we may consider it should the situation demand.”

Those who have a life-threatening “acute” illness will be taken to the emergency room as usual, Fleming said. 

Lynn Community Health Center can be reached at  (781) 581-3900. Salem Hospital can be reached at  (978) 741-1200.