Watson Clinic’s Dr. Kathleen Haggerty Opens Post-COVID Care Clinic
by TERESA SCHIFFER
By this point, you’re likely ready to be done with COVID-19. It has dominated just about every aspect of the year. While healthcare professionals celebrate the hurdles that have been overcome in the fight against COVID, there are fresh reminders every day that the patients who recover still need ongoing care.
Approximately 10 percent of those diagnosed with COVID-19 will suffer long-term symptoms for several months after their initial exposure to the virus. To deal with this new epidemic, specialized, multidisciplinary clinics have been opening up throughout the country to help patients recover from the aftermath of infection with the novel coronavirus.
Watson Clinic’s Dr. Kathleen Haggerty recognized a need for intensive post-COVID care early in the global health crisis, as she scrutinized reports of the disease coming out of China. She has now opened a post-COVID clinic in Lakeland to provide the necessary therapy for patients who have recovered from the virus but still experience lingering effects.
As for the criteria under which a patient will be admitted to the new clinic, Haggerty tells us, “They should be 30 days, at least, past the initiation of their diagnosis. They should have gotten somewhat better – we’re not looking for the person who is on their fourth week on the ventilator in the hospital. We’re looking for them to get a little better, and they should have had some normal healing time, and they are having symptoms that are sort of lingering past the normal time that you would expect them to have healed.”
Unlike influenza, which normally completely clears up in a week or two, COVID-19 can have symptoms that persist for months. Individuals who continue experiencing symptoms are encouraged to visit the clinic with or without a referral from their primary care physician. Though the clinic is affiliated with Watson Clinic, it is not necessary to be a Watson Clinic patient to receive care at the post-COVID clinic.
The most common lingering effect of the virus is fatigue. Cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, brain fog, memory difficulty, blood clots, even hair loss can all be long-term effects of COVID-19. Other symptoms that can persist for months after infection include joint pain, tremors, loss of sense of smell or taste, tinnitus, headaches, diarrhea, and nasal congestion.
“There are a myriad of symptoms,” explains Haggerty, “and we’re always finding new ones, so pretty much anything goes. The only one we don’t see, really, is sneezing.”
With COVID-19 being such a new and unique disease, it is impossible to list all of the symptoms and effects associated with it. More discoveries are being made almost daily by the researchers investigating the virus. This hasn’t deterred Haggerty from doing her best to treat the ailments of post-COVID survivors. “You bring it to me, and I’ll talk to you about it, and figure out some way to deal with it,” she promises her patients.
Haggerty is an internal medicine doctor who has been with Watson Clinic for more than 30 years. This is not the first time that she has been on the front lines of a major medical situation, either. In the early 1980s, Dr. Haggerty was a resident at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital during her medical school training. This was the era of the AIDS crisis, when patients were presenting with a confusing array of symptoms caused by a lowered immune system, and no one knew what was going on.
That experience helped lead to Haggerty’s decision to step up and take charge of opening the post-COVID clinic. She quickly recognized the importance of treating post-COVID patients in a comprehensive manner while simultaneously keeping a close eye on these followup cases in order to gain a better understanding of COVID pathology.
Watson Clinic has an enormous variety of specialists and subspecialists whom Haggerty can count on to work with patients on their particular maladies. “We can do a great deal under one roof for you,” Haggerty says.
Care with the post-COVID clinic is expected to be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most major insurers. The one snag in that department could be with HMOs that do not allow their policyholders to use another primary care physician. Since Haggerty is an internal medicine doctor, she does count as a primary care physician. If this is an issue for a patient, however, Haggerty is more than happy to consult with the individual’s regular doctor to advise on how to proceed with appropriate treatment protocols.
Ultimately, learning to cope with the ramifications of COVID-19 is going to require a team approach. This virus affects so many systems in the body and encompasses such an array of symptoms, the only effective way to treat the disease, at least for the time being, is by having a cadre of specialists standing ready to assist with whatever specific problems a patient may present with.