Published October 3, 2023
BUFFALO, N.Y. – UBMD Internal Medicine has opened Western New York’s first Long COVID Center. Funded by a grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation with support from the University at Buffalo, the center is accepting all patients, whether they have insurance or not.
Staffed by providers and physicians at UBMD Internal Medicine who are faculty members at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, the UBMD Long Covid Center is open and seeing patients.
To schedule an appointment, contact Trudy Stern, NP, at 716-323-0674.
“The acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic may have, thankfully, passed, but there are countless stories of Western New Yorkers who are still experiencing a collection of symptoms from COVID,” said Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, vice president for health sciences at UB, dean of the Jacobs School and president of UBMD Physicians’ Group. “The long COVID Center will put these individuals at the forefront and make the resources needed more accessible.”
“Our center welcomes everyone,” said Sanjay Sethi, MD, center co-director and professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at UBMD Internal Medicine and the Jacobs School.
The center’s ability to serve all patients, whether they have insurance or not, was made possible by funding from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of the most vulnerable New Yorkers.
Sethi added that a partnership between the center and the Buffalo Urban League is promoting outreach to Buffalo’s underserved communities, which have been hard hit by COVID-19 and by long COVID, as well.
To help reduce barriers to care, costs of care including parking will be reimbursed for individuals with economic hardship.
“We are focused on providing a comprehensive assessment of patients who may have long COVID, many of whom feel they have been forgotten,” said Sethi. “Because of that, the initial visit will take significantly longer than a typical office visit so that we can take a full medical history and collect all relevant information from medical records.”
Each patient will then be discussed by a multidisciplinary team of UBMD Internal Medicine providers, occupational and physical therapists, and a social worker and community health worker from the Buffalo Urban League. Based on the review of all of the material, the team will use the information to determine which tests and management plans will be best to recommend to each patient.
Subsequent appointments will be scheduled based on the needs of each patient.
“The plan will be different for each patient,” said Sethi. “Some patients will be referred to medical specialists, while others will be referred to physical or occupational therapy. We will individualize the plan to whatever each individual needs. In addition, we want to pay careful attention to social determinants of health including issues of healthcare access and community support.”
Sethi acknowledged the frustration that is all too familiar for patients with long COVID.
“It is true that right now there are no diagnostic tests and zero proven treatments for long COVID,” he said. “These are challenging patients and our goal is to spend time with them, to find out what is going on and how we can help.”
Providers with the center are committed to spending the time that is necessary to properly evaluate patients; they are aware that in some cases, long COVID will not turn out to be the primary cause of symptoms.
“People may come in with symptoms of conditions that they may have had before COVID-19, but were either never diagnosed or may have been exacerbated by COVID,” noted Jennifer S. Abeles, DO, center co-director with Sethi, a physician with UBMD Internal Medicine and clinical assistant professor of medicine in the Jacobs School. “For example, maybe there are thyroid issues that were never diagnosed. We will order certain blood tests based on what we’re seeing. The goal is to figure out a management plan for that person and then to see how they respond. Are they getting better? What helped and what didn’t help? We need to do a full evaluation of these people.”
So far, Sethi said, most patients will see their primary care provider who may or may not have other patients with long COVID. By contrast, he said, patients at the long COVID center will benefit because their providers will be able to leverage what they see from multiple cases.
Another unique aspect of this center is the emphasis on non-medication interventions, such as physical and occupational therapy to address symptoms such as chronic fatigue. Teaching coping techniques and providing social support will be also part of a holistic approach to care provided by this center.
Center providers will also be seeking opportunities to share what they are learning with other providers in Western New York. “We will be working to share what we find out, to make other primary care providers in the region long COVID-competent,” said Sethi.
The UBMD Long Covid Center is part of an ongoing joint effort by UBMD Physicians’ Group and the University at Buffalo that has been focused on investigating, managing and conducting research on long COVID since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last fall, UB and UBMD launched the Western New York Community-based Long Covid Registry, a questionnaire for people with long COVID that gives them a chance to describe their symptoms in detail. The goal of the registry is to connect patients with information about long COVID and potentially with opportunities to enroll in research while providing clinicians with more information about the extent of long COVID in Western New York.
So far, more than 800 people have participated in the registry. The registry has become an important source of patients fort the long COVID center. While filling out the registry isn’t required to become a patient at the center, the center’s directors strongly encourage it.
“The Long COVID Registry is one of the best ways to become a patient at the Long COVID center,” said Abeles. “A key benefit is that researchers at UB who are conducting long COVID studies can use the registry to inform and recruit potential participants.”
For example, Thomas Guttuso, Jr., MD, a physician with UBMD Neurology and a professor of neurology in the Jacobs School, who conducted a long COVID clinical trial on low-dose lithium, used the registry to enroll many participants.
“People do get better with time, I’ve seen it with my own patients,” said Sethi. “If you look at the incidence of long COVID at three months after acute infection, it may be around 25% but that number declines and people improve with time. It’s a complex disorder though, so we need to tease out all the factors, do the most comprehensive assessment we can do, offer potential therapies that will likely not do any harm, and to invite people into research studies where that’s possible. That is the goal of our Long COVID initiative.”
In addition to the Jacobs School physicians, other UB faculty with the center are Janice Tona, PhD, clinical associate professor and director of the occupational therapy program; Jacob I. McPherson, PhD, DPT, clinical assistant professor; and Abigail Kubiak, adjunct instructor, all of the Department of Rehabilitation Science in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions.
For more information about, visit the WNY Long COVID Center website or call 716-323-0674.