With the uncertainty about how those who have had COVID-19 are impacted by the illness in the long-term, Sholom has launched a new rehab program aimed at helping “long-haulers,” COVID patients who are dealing with long-term ramifications from the illness — which is an estimated 15 percent to 30 percent of those who got the virus.
“You could be asymptomatic, you could have mild symptoms, or you could be hospitalized, but still end up with long-term symptoms,” said Barb Klick, Sholom’s CEO. “It can be anything from cognitive impairment, to breathing problems, to balance problems, to pain problems. There are all kinds of unusual symptoms that are kind of just plaguing people.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s not just older patients who are suffering from the long-term effects; younger, otherwise healthy people, can feel symptoms for weeks or months after the infection.
What makes someone recovering a long-hauler? That isn’t necessarily so straightforward.
“There may not be any specific test to say, ‘This is from the COVID,” said Michelle Harris, Sholom’s rehab manager in St. Louis Park. She said running through the questionnaire they’ve developed will help make sure people who need the rehab services are in the right spot. “Asking questions like ‘When did this start? How long have you had the shortness of breath?, we can trace it back to their diagnoses of having COVID. Or some patients might not even know they had COVID, they were undiagnosed, but they just started having these mild symptoms that never really resolved.”
Klick said that the rehab program was developed by Harris and Dr. Paul Shanfield, a retired neurologist and Sholom board member. The program is a multi-disciplinary approach that includes physical, occupational and speech therapies, social services, therapeutic recreation, and working with the clinical nursing team. The rehab program is offered at both the Shaller Campus in St. Paul and the Ackerberg Campus in St. Louis Park. Sholom was just recently able to start accepting patients at the Ackerberg Campus on an outpatient basis.
“We have the same gym for outpatients and inpatients, and we weren’t able to take all the patients into the care center because of the [COVID] restrictions,” Harris said. “But we were able to create a small outpatient [area] in our adult day center, which has not reopened yet.”
Harris said the benefit of a rehab program is that it can help patients work through their treatment plans and get back regular activities quicker.
“It could cause other complications if you’re not able to build your strength on your own because you have that fatigue,” she said. “Or the shortness of breath becomes so bad that you’re not able to take care of yourself at home anymore because it just continues you just continue to get worse because you’re too weak to kind of push yourself to that next level.”