BIDMC launches COVID-19 'long-haulers' program

Terri Janos tjanos@bilh.org

MARCH 22, 2021

Critical Illness and COVID-19 Survivorship Program helps patients with long-term symptoms reclaim quality of life

BOSTON – With the progressing emergence of patients with COVID-19 exhibiting severe, long-term symptoms, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) has convened a team of experts to support this subset of patients, also known as “long-haulers.” BIDMC’s Critical Illness and COVID-19 Survivorship Program is the most comprehensive post-COVID program of its kind in New England and one of only a few in the country to integrate a broad multi-disciplinary team of medical experts to treat patients with persistent symptoms, which are also described as “long-COVID” or “post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC).”

BIDMC’s program serves patients who have experienced a wide range of disease severity, from mild cases to those involving long stays in an intensive care unit (ICU). A majority of patients in the program are between the ages of 30 and 60, reporting symptoms of breathing discomfort, muscle weakness, racing heartbeat, profound fatigue, dizziness, problems with thinking and memory, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress several months after having COVID-19.

“These symptoms can be severe and impact quality of life substantially, preventing many patients from returning to work and carrying out their daily lives at home,” said Jason Maley, MD, Director of the Critical Illness and COVID-19 Survivorship Program, and physician in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at BIDMC. “The symptoms can impact many areas of their bodies and they often experience a frustrating process of traveling to many different separate specialists who are not connected to one another and may not be able to provide the answers that patients are seeking. Our program aims to provide comprehensive, integrated care with a team of experts who are rapidly gaining expertise in post-COVID care by seeing a large number of patients each week.”

The program is open to anyone experiencing long-COVID symptoms regardless of where they were treated for their initial COVID-19 illness. Patients are initially scheduled for a telehealth visit during which Maley performs broad screening for impairments. Maley develops an individual plan with his patients based on their main deficiencies, and next steps for care are arranged with a core team of specialists in the program, including experts from the cognitive neurology, neurology-neuropathy, psychiatry, geriatrics, sleep medicine, physical therapy, occupational therapy and pulmonary disciplines.

In addition to providing comprehensive care for patients with long-COVID, Maley and his team of specialists are actively engaged in research and are establishing new studies to better understand the syndrome and improve the lives of their patients.

“In order to treat these symptoms that so severely affect our patients’ quality of life, it’s crucial to collaborate with our colleagues across the medical center so that we can meticulously address each varying symptom,” said Richard Schwartzstein, MD, Chief of BIDMC’s Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine. “We are actively engaged in studies to investigate symptoms of long-COVID, furthering our mission to provide our patients with the highest quality care while supporting them in their efforts to achieve their personal goals.”

“While our patients are improving with treatment, we are also working hard to develop resources to help with social support and overcoming daily difficulties at home or work,” Maley said. “We aim to be a leading center nationally for expertise in long-COVID care, and are helping to organize a national network of post-COVID clinics.”

Learn more about BIDMC's Critical Illness and COVID-19 Survivorship Program and contacting the care team.

About Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School and consistently ranks as a national leader among independent hospitals in National Institutes of Health funding. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, a health care system that brings together academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, community and specialty hospitals, more than 4,000 physicians and 35,000 employees in a shared mission to expand access to great care and advance the science and practice of medicine through groundbreaking research and education.