SPHHP Rehabilitation Science team assists UB physicians in Western New York’s first long COVID center

WNY long covid clinic.

From left: Sanjay Sethi, Jennifer Abeles and Trudy Stern are members of the Long COVID Center team at UBMD Internal Medicine. Photo: Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo

“The physician co-directors of the center have been very supportive in involving our rehab disciplines and have positioned OT and PT as key ingredients to patients’ recovery plans. ”
Jacob McPherson, Clinical Assistant Professor

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 UB, the center is accepting all patients, regardless of whether they have insurance.

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.

“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,” says Allison Brashear, 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.”

Using PT and OT to treat long COVID

In addition to the Jacobs School physicians, other UB faculty associated with the center are Janice Tona, clinical associate professor and director of the occupational therapy program; Jacob I. McPherson, clinical assistant professor; and Abigail Kubiak, adjunct instructor, all of the Department of Rehabilitation Science, School of Public Health and Health Professions.

"The physician co-directors of the center have been very supportive in involving our rehabilitation disciplines and have positioned occupational therapy and physical therapy as key ingredients to patients’ recovery plans," says McPherson.

The nurse practitioner on-site at the clinic will screen all patients and refer to physical therapy with McPherson and occupational therapy with Kubiak to treat for issues as appropriate.

"Some of the most common changes seen in this population with long COVID include fatigue, decreased endurance, dizziness, balance impairment, muscle pain, headache, and alterations in heart rate and blood pressure control in response to activity or position change," says McPherson.

PT patients will see McPherson for an assessment and then be triaged to area clinics for PT rehab to work on underlying problems, such as strength, balance and other issues impeding their ability to move and be mobile. 

OT patients will be evaluated by Kubiak and be referred to a local clinic or seen for a few follow up visits for lifestyle modification and assistive devices to help them achieve daily living goals despite long COVID symptoms.

Most important, treatments are targeted to meet individual needs. 

"This is key since individuals with long COVID can have a diverse presentation and there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to treatment," says McPherson.

Center serves everyone

“Our center welcomes everyone,” says Sanjay Sethi, center co-director and professor 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, regardless of their insurance status, 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 adds 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,” Sethi explains. “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 evaluated 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 review of all material, the team will determine which tests and management plans to recommend to each patient.

Subsequent appointments will be scheduled based on the needs of each patient. 

For more information visit the WNY Long COVID Center website or call 716-323-0674.