What specialized clinics may do for long COVID, as many questions remain

Physical therapist Heather Brolio takes the blood pressure reading of long COVID patient Holly Gochis during a physical therapy session at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Lexington.

Physical therapist Heather Brolio takes the blood pressure reading of long COVID patient Holly Gochis during a physical therapy session at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Lexington. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Holly Gochis, a 54-year-old hospital nurse, contracted her second case of COVID last November and is still sick.

“I can’t even go down one flight of stairs without my heart rate going to 150 and myself becoming short of breath. And that’s today,” says Gochis. “It’s been a year.”

A year of migraines, chest and back pain, muscle aches and deep fatigue. A year out of work with no real exercise. Gochis says she rarely has the energy to see friends and no longer has the strength to lift her grandchildren.

Gochis gets treatment for her wide range of ailments through a post-COVID clinic at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. It’s one of at least seven in Massachusetts. Almost every state has one, but access to them may be hundreds of miles away.

The Critical Illness and COVID-19 Survivorship Program at BIDMC includes physical and occupational therapists, neurologists, lung specialists, a psychiatrist, sleep medicine doctors, mindful breathing teachers, nurses and social workers. A nurse or doctor starts with a head-to-toe exam.

The next step is referrals. These centers, called long COVID or post-COVID clinics help patients in pain, or who feel like they can’t think straight, schedule tests and book appointments with specialists. It can be tough. Many of them had full schedules before COVID.

Dr. Jason Maley, a pulmonologist who directs the BIDMC clinic, says physicians don’t know yet why the effects of COVID fester for some. So the focus in these clinics is on treating each patients’ most debilitating symptoms.

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