Decrease in Immunizations, Cancer Screenings, Annual Physicals Seen on Central Coast Due to COVID Concerns
Top health professionals on the Central Coast have joined CenCal Health, the local Medi-Cal health plan, in encouraging the public to return to their doctors, clinics and hospitals for vital health care services, especially immunizations, cancer screenings and other preventive care evaluations. A bilingual public awareness campaign began this month to persuade area residents to go back to regular medical care – care that has slowed up to 50% in some service categories since the national health emergency was declared in March. Disruptions occurred in routine preventive and other non-emergency care due to stay-at-home orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and public fear of coronavirus contagion.
“Now that we know more about preventing the spread, it’s time to welcome you back to care,” says Van Do-Reynoso, Ph.D., Director of Santa Barbara County Public Health Department in a new TV commercial produced by CenCal Health. The 60 and 30 second spots are currently airing in English on local stations and cable television across Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. Spanish language versions will broadcast next week. Other prominent participants in the public health message include Charles Fenzi, M.D., CEO of Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, Rocio Rodriguez Valencia, M.D. of Community Health Centers of the Central Coast (CHC), and Sue Andersen, president and CEO of Marian Regional Medical Center.
In the “Welcome Back to Care” TV spots, local medical professionals emphasize the safety of patients returning to care, outlining examples of protocols put in place in addition to mask wearing, temperature readings and disinfecting facilities. Medical staff are implementing measures like “turning cars into waiting rooms,” says Santa Maria pediatrician Robert Barry, M.D., “and reducing the number of patients in our office at the same time,” offers Melvin Lopez, M.D., of Marian Community Clinics. Paul Hennig, M.D., Chief Medical Officer & Family Physician for American Indian Health & Services, announces they are “offering telemedicine, so some visits can be held through your smartphone.”
According to the California Department of Public Health, vaccinations for children decreased by more than 40% in April 2020 compared to the same month the previous year. For March through May of this year, CenCal Health evaluated utilization trends among its members and found a 34% decrease in immunizations for adolescents in Santa Barbara County. The health plan also discovered a 50% decrease in cervical cancer screenings in Santa Barbara County, with a 40% decrease in the same category in San Luis Obispo County. There was a 35% decrease in preventive medicine evaluations (such as annual physicals) for adults in Santa Barbara County, and a 31% decrease in San Luis Obispo County.
“An advantage of a publicly-sponsored health plan is that it works for the betterment of the community,” said Bob Freeman, CEO of CenCal Health. “We saw the opportunity to help by letting the public know of the many steps physicians and other providers are taking to provide care safely.”
The TV spots end with the message “if you have lost your health insurance you may qualify for free coverage,” and offers a URL to learn more about applying for Medi-Cal. “Every one of the providers in our video serve Medi-Cal patients,” added Freeman.
CenCal Health partners with over 1,500 local physicians, hospitals and other providers in delivering patient care to nearly 190,000 members in two counties – about one in four residents of Santa Barbara County and one in five residents of San Luis Obispo County.
The “Welcome Back to Care” public service message can be viewed at cencalhealth.org.
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