Pediatricians struggling during pandemic; 'We need help'
Pediatricians across central New York are fighting to survive as the coronavirus pandemic has created a financially untenable situation for many.
East Syracuse pediatrician Dr. Vito Losito says it’s plain and simple, the infrastructure for pediatric care is crumbling.
"I want the government to know, I want the insurance companies to know, I want the public to know that the pediatric infrastructure, the people who care for your children are struggling to stay afloat, stay available, and we need help." Losito said.
Among the issues are a massive drop in outpatient visits since the pandemic hit central New York.
Steven Blatt, president of the Pediatric Society of Central New York, said unlike adult medical practices, pediatric practices have been slow to return to normal levels, many down as much as 40%. He said during the lockdown, fewer children got sick. But he said many parents are still reluctant to bring their kids to the doctor for fear of catching COVID-19.
"Parents in this community should not hesitate to take their child to the hospital, to the emergency room, or their pediatric office if they need to go," Blatt said. "They’re safe. You’re not going to get COVID going to the doctor, because we do everything possible to protect people."
People returning for well visits and vaccines will help. But it’s not enough to keep offices operating. There are more expenses for things like PPE, longer visits to ensure areas are disinfected.
Many offices have already furloughed staff, and now they're turning to health insurance companies, who have been banking insurance premiums. Specifically, they’re asking for advance payments to help practices stay afloat. To do that they need approval from a state agency, according to Scott Schurman, vice chair of pediatrics at Upstate Golisano Children's hospital.
"Payers are going to have to come with us and negotiate this and make sure their reserves are adequate, and that we can continue to provide service," Schurman said.
In the meantime, Blatt encourages families to bring their children in for well visits, vaccinations and other appointments to monitor chronic conditions. If things continue the way they are going, those offices might not be open when families need them in the future.
"We want some relief so we can be there when the kids get sick, which they will. This fall, there will be a lot of acute illnesses and we want to be there for them," he said.