CINCINNATI — UC Health COVID Recovery Clinic doctors want health clinics to begin screening patients for post COVID-19 conditions.
"Prevalence is high," said Dr. Richard Beck, cardiologist and director of the Heart Institute at UC Health. "(The) impact is staggering."
Hinda Stockstill, 35, sought support at Cleveland Clinic's reCOVer Clinic for long haul COVID patients. She caught coronavirus in 2020 and suffered mild symptoms, Stockstill said.
Later, though, she experienced constant fatigue, brain fog, fevers, chills, chest pain, migraines, weakness and numbness for 18 months and counting. At one point, Stockstill lost hair and needed to re-learn how to walk, brush teeth or comb hair. It left her with a burden that felt too heavy to bear without support.
"I would have probably committed suicide," she said. "I was that depressed and that hurt and stigmatized and told by several people if you'd just (take) vitamins or if you would just suck it up and quit crying, you'll be okay. The first doctor I saw told me that it was anxiety. In the last 18 months, I've had 78 different medical visits. But, they still don't have an understanding of what exactly causes long COVID and how to cure it or treat it."
UC Health's COVID Recovery Clinic opened in March 2020 as a destination for people who needed clinicians who believed long haul COVID was an actual condition. Now, a team of 12 heart, lung, kidney, brain, nerve and skin specialists works with patients to find answers too. Following CDC guidelines, they recommend health providers screen every patient recovering from a COVID-19 infection with questions about known post covid conditions.
One in five Americans under 65 years old experience at least one post-COVID condition, according to Centers for Disease Control research. A quarter of older Americans endure the same, CDC research said.
Though recognized as a potential disability by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, people like Darell Jones, who also battled fatigue, needed to find new jobs.
"Employers have found it difficult to accept short-term and long-term disability because there aren't clear diagnostic tests, meaning there isn't a blood test that I could do today. There will be a test in time, but not today, that would tell me if a person has a post-covid condition."
"I know several people who are being denied long-term, short-term disability benefits and social security benefits," Stockstill said. "They're being told by doctors they're not disabled."
Research shared by the National Academy of Medicine found rising rates of chronic fatigue cost the U.S. economy $51 billion a year. Dr. Stephen Feagins, medical director for Hamilton County Public Health, thinks the next big challenge involves better testing for long haul symptoms.
"How many people do we anticipate because we had so much COVID that will still be unable to join the workforce after three months, six months or further down the road," Dr. Feagins said.
The National Institute of Health director blogged about using artificial intelligence to analyze health records to potentially identify people vulnerable to post-COVID conditions. Meanwhile, UC Health's team hopes to give people like Stockstill and Jones everything they need.
"We need love, encouragement and support," said Stockstill.
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