Bristol medical center opens new ‘Respiratory Care Center’

It’s not a testing site, and it’s not for walk-ins, but it IS created in response to COVID-19

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Most people agree that the worst of the coronavirus crisis is yet to come. How the community prepares today will determine if hospitals and intensive care units can manage the influx of cases, expected to peak at some point in the next month.

The Medical Associates of Rhode Island headquarters, formerly the Bristol County Medical Center, has made a move to help provide the community with the highest standard of care — regardless of why you might be coming to their doors.

“COVID is a rapidly changing pandemic, and we are learning new things multiple times a day,” said Leslie Mohlman, M.D. an Internal Medicine and Pediatrics physician with the practice. “And we wanted to keep our staff and our patients as healthy as they could be, while still continuing to care for the community as that is our motto: ‘Dedicated to excellence and the health of our community.’ ”

The practice has long been housed in a single-story sprawling structure just north of the intersection of Gooding Avenue and Hope Street. An outbuilding was added for an MRI facility several years ago, but has most recently been used for storage.

“We’ve transformed that building into our Respiratory Care Center. For any patients with respiratory symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath, we’re asking them to not come into our main building and instead schedule an appointment with our Respiratory Care Center,” said Dr. Mohlman.

It’s open Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. In addition to a nurse and a doctor in the center, volunteer students from Brown’s Alpert Medical School are working in the main building processing patient intake information via phone and computer.

East Side Clinical Lab is also providing testing kits and guidance for the center, and the state has helped provide personal protective equipment, which, according to Dr. Mohlman, the center is using as sparingly and safely as they can.

“We really appreciate the help we’ve gotten from Gov. Gina Raimondo and the Rhode Island Deparrtment of Health, to be able to set this up,” she said.

This is not a walk-in service. As per protocol statewide, respiratory patients are being seen on an appointment-only basis. Patients with respiratory symptoms are being asked to first call their primary care physician. The center will accept referrals from other providers.

"There’s kind of three levels of care,” said Dr. Mohlman. “If you are very ill, you need to get to the hospital. And if you are kind of ill, you need to stay home. If you feel you could drive, you’re well enough to stay home. It’s that middle category that we are here to serve.”

The center has been open a little more than a week, having seen their first patients on Friday, March 20.

“We have slots for 20 patients a day — we’re not a drive through testing service,” said Dr. Mohlman. “The patient is examined, and the doctor comes up with a plan based on findings. It may be a garden-variety sinusitis, or pneumonia; it’s still flu season, so it could be flu. We are treating patients clinically based on their exam.”

Offering quality care to respiratory patients is one of their primary concerns; the other is protecting the integrity of the patients and staff in the main building.

“We are working very hard to make sure our main building is uninfected,” said Dr. Mohlman. “We want people to still feel comfortable coming in for other problems.” They are even requiring physicians working in the respiratory care center to transcribe notes telephonically to scribes in the main building, to reduce the duration of contact with a possible COVID-19 sufferer, as well as keep their electronics free of any possible coronavirus contamination.

Dr. Mohlman noted that the center has tested a majority of patients they have seen in the past week, as the patients have met the existing criteria. The criteria for testing widened on Monday to include symptomatic patients over 65, with underlying conditions, first responders and other critical infrastructure workers, but there is still a criteria, and tests are not being administered to asymptomatic patients.

“All respiratory illness these days is not COVID, and by far the majority of everyone we’ve seen have not had COVID,” said Dr. Mohlman.

Remember, first, you should contact your primary care physician to arrange for a referral to the Respiratory Care Center. To reach the center directly, Call Medical Associates of Rhode Island at 401/253-8900.

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