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Rantz: Polyclinic’s COVID policy harms patients, says staff isn’t fully vaccinated

Polyclinic Madison Center. (Screengrab: KIRO 7 TV)

I have severe asthma that can be scary at times. In the last month, my asthma has been difficult to manage. When I turned to the Polyclinic, I realized I would not be helped. I believe their adherence to a policy that is overly protective was more important than my health.

Before seeing my asthma doctor, which is always difficult due to his packed schedule, I would first have to get a COVID test. Then, I’d have to wait two days for the results before being allowed to get treatment. I’m fully vaccinated. This seems unnecessary.

Despite struggling to breathe, I would have to wait an absurdly long time for treatment. And when you can’t take full breaths, every hour feels like an eternity. Does their policy make sense? Not to patients who expect a clinic to help when they need it. And when I asked questions, I realized their staff isn’t even fully vaccinated nor regularly tested. Why is that?

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Polyclinic policy puts the burden on patients

The asthma flare-up had worsened over several weeks. After about a month of no relief, I asked to see my doctor.

The office’s nurse told me they could fit me into their schedule six days later, the upcoming Monday. But I would first have to get a COVID test to prove I wasn’t infected. That test must happen two days before the appointment.

My schedule is not particularly open. I work a lot, and it’s a struggle to make the few open exam slots offered work. But when sick, I obviously rearrange what I can. But a COVID test? It’s absurd to jump through an unnecessary hoop when I’m fully vaccinated.

I asked the nurse if it’s necessary to get a COVID test when I’ve been vaccinated. I offered to take an at-home test and show the results because it would be considerably more convenient and time-efficient. After all, there are two readily available tests that, like the vaccines, were given emergency authorization to use. Plus, I was scheduled to go out of town that weekend and couldn’t make their schedule work.

But the nurse said no.

She was doing me a favor?

The nurse made it seem like they were doing me a favor by seeing me in the first place. She cautioned me that my doctor is booked out three to four weeks and that she was working me in as a “special” courtesy. Gee, thanks. Perhaps next time I struggle to breathe, I’ll work it around their busy schedule.

She said the COVID test is required at the major health institutions for any testing that blows respiratory particles in the air. I would need to do tests where I blow air to check my lung capacity for my treatment. The nurse said even fully vaccinated patients could spread COVID, “as this virus is not eradicated.”

This virus is not going to be eradicated, certainly not any time soon. Will Polyclinic burden all patients — particularly the ones struggling to breathe — with having to take extra days off work so they can seek treatment? I started asking questions.

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The policy doesn’t make sense to me

I believe the vaccine works, but Polyclinic unintentionally sends the message that it doesn’t.

My risk of death or complications from COVID, including the Delta variant, is extremely low. I’m extremely low-risk thanks to my vaccination — unless we’re being lied to about its efficacy. I don’t believe we are.

My doctor is presumably at low risk, too. He has access to medical-grade personal protective gear; he has the masks that actually work. He’s also likely vaccinated, isn’t he? Maybe not.

A spokesperson for the Polyclinic tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that while most of their staff is now vaccinated, “we do not require it while the vaccines are under Emergency Use Authorization.” Keep this in mind as the Attorney General of Washington pushes through a policy mandating a vaccine for all his staff. Not all health care workers will get the vaccine, and it won’t be mandated because it hasn’t been fully approved, but we’re not supposed to wonder why. We’ll be called anti-vaxxers if we ask the wrong questions.

And while all patients seeing doctors at the Polyclinic for certain procedures must go through COVID testing, “staff are tested for COVID-19 if clinically indicated.”

Isn’t staff at risk?

Doctors and nurses are in front of numerous patients every day, many of whom are older and at greater risk due to COVID. Yet the staff only receive testing when they show symptoms or have reason to believe they were exposed?

A patient comes in for roughly 30-45 minutes, while wearing a mask, and is socially distanced from others. Yet we’re required to take a COVID test when fully vaccinated while showing no symptoms?

If a medical-grade mask doesn’t protect them from COVID, doesn’t that mean they are a bigger risk to patients than we are to them? We’d go through a test, pass it, only to get COVID from our asymptomatic doctor or nurse who doesn’t have to be vaccinated or get tested. That doesn’t sound like our health is first and foremost.

The explanation

A second spokesperson emailed me a great explanation of their policy. You see, it’s not about the doctors. It’s about other patients.

“Our staff are screened and well trained to adhere to optimal masking and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) utilization, thus the risk of respiratory droplet escape from the care team is essentially eliminated and risk to the patient is maximally mitigated,” the spokesperson emailed the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

She said that sometimes patients must take off a mask for “potentially long periods of time,” and it “means the patient may be at risk for releasing potentially infectious respiratory droplets into the air, some of which may linger long after the procedures [sic] is complete.”

While the spokesperson says the staff’s risk is mitigated with proper PPE, the patient “potentially risks other personnel or patients entering the room after the case is done.”

I’m certainly not a doctor nor an expert in COVID. I’m just someone who wishes to be able to breathe. There’s no better way to treat patients? You can’t have exam rooms reserved for vaccinated patients?

What about putting the patient first?

I certainly think we should implement reasonable mitigation policies to keep people safe. And I don’t suspect some nefarious intent from the Polyclinic.

But their policy doesn’t seem reasonable, and it’s not patient-focused. When you’re struggling to breathe there should be some understanding that waiting a week is hard enough. Having to schedule a pre-appointment COVID test seems cruel.

“Physicians and offices need to take care of people first and foremost,” a doctor friend of mine tells me. “We have been trained to be around infectious diseases. It’s part of my everyday. So it’s annoying to me that patients are told to wait for everything until COVID testing is done or be told remote visits only.”

He’s right.

Goodbye, asthma doctor

I ended up forgoing treatment, leaning more heavily on my inhaler and nebulizer. But my symptoms worsened.

This past weekend, I almost went to the emergency room. It was that bad. Had I gone to the emergency room, would they have me wait two days for a negative test? Nope. Yet when I needed the Polyclinic, a nurse pushed me into a test that didn’t seem necessary.

I ended up connecting on a virtual call with a doctor through my health insurance. He gave me a prescription for a heavy dose of prednisone and offered me a plan for when the treatment is done. I’m currently feeling better.

I imagine some folks think I’m selfish for wanting to forgo a COVID test. Maybe I am. When one can’t breathe, I can assure you, one may start thinking about themselves. And that’s OK.

As my asthma improves, I’m dropping my Polyclinic asthma doctor for an office that will forgo rigid rules at the expense of my health. If you have any referrals, send them my way.

Did you like this opinion piece? Then listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  Instagram, and Parler, and like me on Facebook

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