Health system opens clinic for patients experiencing COVID-19 infection longer-term effects

April 16, 2021

Allegheny Health Network (AHN) announced it established one of the region’s first specialized clinics to address the unique health needs of patients recovering from moderate to acute cases of COVID-19 and experiencing its longer-term effects. 

The AHN Post COVID-19 Recovery Clinic is led by the Network’s pulmonary and critical care division and is based out of the Breathing Disorders Center at the AHN Wexford Health + Wellness Pavilion. 

“Across the country, physicians are witnessing an increasing number of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 yet continue to deal with a myriad of issues from pulmonary, heart and vascular problems to chronic fatigue, headaches and post-traumatic stress disorder,” explained Tariq Cheema, MD, division director of pulmonary, critical care, sleep and allergy at AHN and physician lead at the clinic. “The ramifications of the pandemic will continue to be seen in this new patient population and we’re looking forward to helping these individuals diagnose their symptoms, navigate their treatment path and ease some of their concerns.” 

A February study in JAMA by infectious disease specialists from the University of Washington in Seattle, (“Sequelae in Adults at 6 Months After COVID-19 Infection” ) found that roughly 30% of 177 people who mostly had mild COVID-19 cases reported persistent symptoms up to nine months after illness; for surveyed participants over the age of 65 years, that number jumped to 43.3%. Overall, of the more than 28 million Americans diagnosed with COVID-19, it’s estimated that as many as 8.4 million people fall into the category commonly known as the "long-haulers." 

Across AHN, and in line with national findings, the coined “long-COVID” symptoms most often recorded include fatigue, shortness of breath, scarred lung tissue, cardiac or neurological complications and depression. In fact, in a recent report published in JAMA Psychiatry (“Association of Acute Symptoms of COVID-19 and Symptoms of Depression in Adults”) researchers surveyed nearly 4,000 individuals with a prior COVID-19 diagnosis and found that more than half met the criteria for moderate or greater symptoms of major depressive disorder. 

“We’ve seen former COVID-19 patients who’ve never smoked before with lung scans mirroring that of a lifelong smoker. We’re also noting increased cases of extreme fatigue, ongoing loss of smell/taste, heart inflammation and growing numbers of self-reported depression,” continued Dr. Cheema. “So as COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to fall across the Network, we pivoted our focus to designing a multidisciplinary, strategic clinical team aimed at diagnostics, recovery and comprehensive care.” 

Currently, the AHN Post COVID-19 Recovery Clinic engages caregivers from the cardiovascular, family medicine, behavioral health, pulmonary and critical care disciplines to create tailored treatment paths that help patients diagnose, manage and overcome related complications brought on by mild to severe COVID infections. Patients can expect to work closely with an assigned nurse navigator to design and implement a purposeful care pathway to best manage their post-acute COVID syndrome and treat persistent symptoms. For patients at the clinic, treatment plans will vary but may include CT scans, cardiac or pulmonary rehabilitation, medical therapies, mental health screenings and breathing exercises. 

Although based out of AHN Health + Wellness Pavilion in Wexford, the clinic is available for patients throughout the region with participating clinicians positioned across Allegheny General, Allegheny Valley, Jefferson, Grove City and Saint Vincent hospitals. The clinic offers both telemedicine and in-person appointments. The new clinic is open to anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and continues to experience symptoms after recovery. The AHN Research Institute will also be actively engaged to systematically assess and analyze data collected from patient reports and outcomes. 

Allegheny Health Network has the release

More COVID-19 coverage HERE.