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Curbside doctors’ visits offer peace-of-mind to parents and providers

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One-year-old Elias Fuentes had been sick for a few weeks, but his mother, Jasmine, was nervous about taking him to the doctor and possibly exposing him to COVID-19. Then she learned that their provider, Penn State Health Medical Group – All About Children offered an innovative solution: curbside appointments.

During the curbside visits, which are offered by appointment only Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., the patient stays in the car. Providers can treat sick children and provide therapeutic injections, a second dose of the flu vaccine or other treatments. The curbside clinic limits both patients’ and providers’ potential exposure to the coronavirus.

Appointments take approximately 20 minutes. Newborn and well-child appointments, including routine vaccinations, are still held inside the All About Children office.

Located at 655 Walnut Street in West Reading, All About Children provides primary care to approximately 15,000 pediatric patients in Berks County. In the early days of the COVID-19 health crisis, the practice scheduled well-child appointments in the morning and sick-child appointments in the afternoon, doing health screenings of all patients before they could enter the building.

As staff focused on safety measures to protect patients and providers from COVID-19, they wondered what more they could do. Adrienne Salaneck, a nurse practitioner at the practice, suggested using the building’s garage to their advantage.

“We’re fortunate to have a stand-alone building with a parking lot that wraps around,” said Ellen Bryan, All About Children’s practice site manager. “Once we decided to set up a drive-through sick-visit site, it was up and running almost instantly.”

The curbside clinic opened in late March with providers stocking all of their personal protective equipment and medical supplies inside the garage to be ready for each appointment. Then high winds and rain on April 9 put a damper on the set-up. Within a day, Penn State Health Facilities came to their rescue, setting up a canopy by the garage opening to protect both the providers and the car’s occupants.

During the curbside visits, infants and toddlers remain secured in their car seats. That carried special appeal to Fuentes.

“I hate unstrapping my kids and dragging them inside for an appointment,” said Fuentes, who also has a 5-month-old and a 4-year-old. “This set-up was so much easier.”

Initially, the curbside clinic could accommodate 10 patients per day. They’ve since opened up a second lane for cars in queue, doubling their capacity as providers can now see two patients at a time.

“We’re fortunate that we had a building design that enabled us to provide this curbside service to our patients and our staff,” said Dr. Abdullah Sakarcan, lead physician at All About Children. “Our patients feel safer. Our providers feel safer. It may look like a Jiffy Lube-type of appointment, but it’s the perfect solution.”

Dr. Desiree Webb, wearing a gown, face mask and stethoscope, stands next to a car with a boy who is wearing a face mask and jacket. The car door is open.

Dr. Desiree Webb checks the eye of 7-year-old Jayvian Montanez of Reading.

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