Free clinic’s drive-up service among local virus controls

On a normal day the Highlands Health free clinic may have 20 people crammed into the waiting room at 340 Main St. in Johnstown.

With the risk of spreading coronavirus through close contact with others, clinic leaders realized change was needed.

“We knew we had to do something,” Executive Director Rosalie Danchanko said. “We came up with a protocol to keep your staff safe, our volunteers safe and our patients safe.”

The new protocol uses phone consultations and drive-up medication pickup to limit the number of people in the clinic, she said.

The protocols went into effect on Wednesday, with Army Reservists greeting patients and delivering prescriptions outside the clinic.

“It’s working really well,” Danchanko said late Wednesday.

“We got the (parking) meters bagged and made a really cool pink sign. It’s easy-peasy.”

All patients are being screened by phone for COVID-19 symptoms, which include shortness of breath, cough and fever. Some are transferred to a doctor to resolve the issue with a consultation.

By limiting those who actually need to see a provider, the clinic has been able to take patients directly into an exam room and eliminate congregating in the waiting room, Danchanko said.

Danchanko sent the protocol developed in Johnstown to the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.

“They took our protocol and sent it nationwide,” she said.

The free clinic is one of a growing number of organizations making changes to reduce the need for face-to-face interaction.

Others include:

• All Social Security offices closed for in-person services on Tuesday.

The agency says its website allows users to apply for retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits, check the status of an application or appeal, request a replacement Social Security card or print a benefit verification letter. There is also a Frequently Asked Questions section.

• Johstown free meal providers have moved to takeout only.

St. Vincent de Paul Family Kitchen, 231 Bedford St., serves weekdays, beginning at 11:30 a.m. Leaders say they try to keep those in line separated for protection, but advise those with increased risk to wait until the line is reduced.

The Salvation Army meal center, 576 Vine St., is open weekdays beginning at 4:30 p.m. The to-go meals are served from the back door.

• PennDOT has reopened some rest stops on interstate highways.

After closing all rest stops on Tuesday, PennDOT on Thursday will reopen 13 deemed as critical for truck parking. They include facilities on routes 79, 80 and 81. The buildings will remain locked, but there will be portable toilets, including at least one with wheelchair access. 

• Red Cross is in urgent need of blood donations.

“Right now, the American Red Cross has a severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations at these locations during this coronavirus outbreak. Healthy individuals are needed to donate now to help patients counting on lifesaving blood,” the Greater Alleghenies Blood Services Region said in a press release. 

Community blood drives account for about 80% of blood donations. Nearly 2,700 drives have been canceled, nationally. 

The Red Cross has taken additional measures to ensure the safety of donors and staff, the release said.

Appointment slots at donation centers and capacity at community blood drives are being expanded to accommodate more donors. 

Appointments may be scheduled from the website redcrossblood.org.

• State police identification system remains open.

A surge of gun permit requests twice interrupted the Pennsylvania Instant Check System on Tuesday, leading some to believe it was part of the state’s efforts to reduce the spread of coronavirus. 

Maj. Gary Dance, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Records and Identification, said “technology challenges” caused the interruptions.  

“Despite the downtime, PICS completed 4,342 transactions on March 17, compared to 1,359 transactions on the corresponding Tuesday in March 2019,” Dance said. 

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The Tribune-Democrat
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