A small, family-owned pediatric clinic in Provo is adjusting the way it provides medical services to children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michelle Fuller, office manager of Pediatric Care Inc. in Provo, said Tuesday that ensuring patient safety goes far beyond wiping down doorknobs around the office regularly.
Fuller, who owns the Utah County clinic with her husband, Joshua Fuller, a pediatrician, said she and her spouse have taken a number of steps to prevent patients and their families from being infected with COVID-19, including removing toys from examination rooms and making sure patients don’t interact with or bump into one another.
“When they come in, they are never sitting in the waiting area,” Michelle Fuller said. “They get straight back to a room, so no two families are ever in contact with each other.”
Even though the clinic is taking precautionary measures, some patients are still nervous about being in a medical facility during a public health crisis, Michelle Fuller said.
“You can see it,” she said. “They’re scared. Everyone’s wearing masks, it just looks very different. It’s not as friendly of an environment as it used to be.”
Michelle Fuller added that equal measures are being taken to keep staff safe, including herself and her husband.
“I feel emotionally and really personally responsible for my staff,” she said.
Working with children during a pandemic is “a little more risky” than working with adults, Michelle Fuller said, since COVID-19 can spread through droplets from coughs and sneezes. And little children often aren’t the best at containing their coughs and sneezes, she pointed out.
Michelle Fuller recalls a mother coming in recently with her 19-month-old child. Wearing an eye-shield and disposable gloves, Michelle Fuller offered to hold the baby as the mom filled out paperwork.
“And it was a little nerve-racking,” she said. “Because you have this crying baby and the baby’s drooling, and I know that COVID(-19) can be spread through droplets. And, at the same time, you’re trying to give compassionate care.”
For Joshua Fuller, the risk of being exposed to a dangerous disease or virus is part of the profession.
“I think it does kind of just come with the job to some degree, and there’s always risk of being exposed to stuff,” the pediatrician said. “We, as doctors, kind of get used to it a little bit, I think.”
In an effort to keep both providers and patients safe, Joshua Fuller said his clinic has started implementing telemedicine services and holding appointments remotely “whenever possible.”
Additionally, Joshua Fuller said he performs in-house visits to prevent young patients from having to be exposed to busy hospitals and emergency rooms “where there may be other sick patients.”
“And so we can hopefully prevent the spread of COVID that way as well,” he said.
The Provo clinic divided its staff into two groups that rotate shifts regularly, Michelle Fuller said. One group works from home while the other works in the facility. That way, she said, the clinic can still operate even if a provider contracts the virus or otherwise has to self-quarantine.
One of the older providers who works with patients who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, has started holding nearly all of his appointments through telemedicine “so that he’s not being exposed,” Joshua Fuller said.
“Because he is 81 years old, and we don’t want him to be possibly exposed to the virus,” he said.
The Provo-based pediatrician said he hopes stay-home recommendations and orders will be eased in May, but added that it is more realistic that they will be in place until at least June.
“Because I think, when we do ease restrictions, it is going to increase the number of cases,” he said.
He said local, state and federal governments are in “kind of a lose-lose situation” during the pandemic since they are, in a sense, forced to weigh economic prosperity against public health.
“They’re in a very difficult spot, I think, as far as decision-making goes,” he said.