Having been a reader of Pediatric News for years, I want to bring to light access-to-care issues involving COVID-19 medical facility restrictions for pediatric patients and their parents.
On March 27, 2020, I received a phone call from the Department of Human Services pleading with me to take a medically fragile child who was entering the foster care system that day. He had very specific needs, and they had no one available who could medically meet those needs. The week prior was my kids’ scheduled spring break; the week I got the call was the week that I was voluntarily furloughed from my job as a pediatric nurse practitioner so that I could stay home with my kids as their school would not be reopening for the year, and someone had to be with them. I was already home with my 3-year-old and 6-year-old, so why not add another?
Leo (name changed for privacy) came to me with a multitude of diagnoses, to say the least. Not only did he require physical, speech, and occupational therapy twice weekly, but he often had appointments with 10 different specialists at the local children’s hospital. The first few weeks he was in my care, we had almost daily visits to either therapists or specialists. Keeping up with these types of appointments in a normal world is difficult ... I was getting the crash course on how to navigate all of it in the COVID-19 world.
So now, I am the primary caregiver during the day for my two children and our medically fragile foster child who has multiple medical appointments a week. Our local children’s hospital allowed only the caregiver to accompany him to his visits. In theory this sounds great, right? Fewer people in a facility equals less exposure, less risk, and fewer COVID-19 infections.
But what about the negative consequences of these hospital policies? I have two other children I was caring for. I couldn’t take them to their grandparents’ house because people over age 65 years are at risk of having COVID-19 complications. I had been furloughed, so our income was half what it typically was. Regardless,
Now imagine if I were a single mom who had three kids and a lesser paying job. Schools are closed and she’s forced to work from home and homeschool her children. Or worse, she’s been laid off and living on unemployment. Do you think she is going to have the time or finances available to hire a babysitter so that she can take her medically fragile child in for his cardiology follow-up? Because not only does she have to pay the copays and whatever insurance doesn’t cover, but now she has to fork over $50 for child care. If you don’t know the answer already, it’s no, she does not have the time or the finances. So her child misses a cardiology appointment, which means that his meds weren’t increased according to his growth, which means his pulmonary hypertension is not controlled, which worsens his heart failure ... you get my drift.
Fast forward to Sept. 22, 2020. I had a cardiology appointment at our local heart hospital for myself. It’s 2020, people, I’ve been having some palpitations that I needed checked out and was going in to have a heart monitor patch placed. I had my 4-year-old son with me because he is on a hybrid schedule where we homeschool 2 days a week. We entered the building wearing masks, and I was immediately stopped by security and informed that, according to the COVID-19 policy for their hospital, children under 16 are not allowed to enter the building. After some discussion, I was ultimately refused care because my son was with me that day. Refused care because I had a masked 4-year-old with a normal temperature at my side.
These policies are not working. We are in health care. It should not matter what pandemic is on the table, we should not be refusing patients access to care based on who is by their side that day. We knew the risks when we entered our profession, and we know the proper measures to protect ourselves. Our patients also know the risks and can protect themselves accordingly.
So this is my plea to all medical facilities out there: Stop. Stop telling people their loved ones can’t accompany them to appointments. Stop telling caregivers to wait in their cars while their elderly, demented mothers have their annual physicals. Stop telling moms they need to leave their other children at home. This is now a huge access-to-care issue nationwide and it needs to stop. Excess deaths in our nation are soaring, and it’s not just because people don’t want to seek medical attention; it’s because medical facilities are making it almost impossible to seek help for many. People are dying, and it’s not only from COVID-19. This is on us as health care providers, and we need to step up to the plate and do what is right.
Ms. Baxendale is a nurse practitioner in Mustang, Okla. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.