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‘Gut-Wrenching’ Physical, Psychological Cases Emerge From New COVID Recovery Center

October 21, 2020

A week after announcing the region’s first COVID Recovery Center for those with long-term repercussions from viral infection, one Hartford HealthCare leader called the stories coming in “gut-wrenching.”

Dr. Ajay Kumar, HHC’s chief clinical officer, said the stories reflect European study results showing that 10 percent of people who contract COVID-19 develop “long-hauler syndrome,” meaning they suffer debilitating symptoms well after recovering.

“We’ve had about 50 calls and 20 people scheduled for follow-up appointments for everything from fatigue to chest pain to shortness of breath,” he said.

The pandemic is also causing many behavioral health issues, added Dr. John Santopietro, physician-in-chief of the HHC Behavioral Health Network.

“I don’t think it’s a surprise to say this is an extraordinarily stressful time,” he said, noting that the situation’s unpredictability and people’s lack of access to traditional coping mechanisms like gathering with others has caused significant increases depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. “We’re seeing up to two times more (cases).”

Dr. Santopietro said his team is concerned with neurological issues such as memory trouble and brain fog in COVID-19 survivors.

“They are having difficulty concentrating, their moods are changing and they have disruptive anxiety,” he said.

The COVID Recovery Center (860.827.3200) is designed to address such lingering symptoms, Dr. Kumar said. People with concerns can call the Center and find referrals to services that will help them improve their health. One place callers might be referred is the HHC Rehabilitation Network.

“We are here to triage patients when they call, to see what kind of impairments they have,” said Medical Director Dr. Subramani Seetharama.

The literature, he continued, points to “variations of symptoms like neuropathy, cerebrovascular or stroke, speech changes and swallowing problems.” Another example stems from the practice of proning for extremely ill COVID patients in hospital intensive care units. Rolling them onto their stomachs helps them breathe but, in the long term, it can also cause extremity weakness that leaves them struggling to perform routine activities such as brushing their teeth.

Although the new service addresses needs post-COVID infection, he said the virus is still active in the community.

“The fate of the pandemic is in our hands,” Dr. Kumar said. “We can control things. I understand that there is pandemic fatigue, mask fatigue. But, I assure you that the virus is not fatigued,”

For more information, people who have had COVID-10 can call the COVID Recovery Center at 860.827.3200. Anyone with questions about the virus itself or testing can call the HHC Community Care Center, at 833.621.0600, 24 hours a day.