For the past four months, something as simple as walking down the stairs has proven exhausting for Saanich’s Elise Cote. She’s been diagnosed with post-acute COVID syndrome or ‘long-COVID’.
“On a bad day I’m often spending about eight hours a day laying down and on a good day maybe it’s only two, so that’s a day where I’m ecstatic,” Cote said.
The 33-year-old also gets chest pains, a racing heart, and numb feet and hands and can’t return to work. Cote says she was perfectly healthy prior to getting COVID-19 in late December, suggesting her life is “nothing like what it was before.”
Cote has been working with her doctor to get into Victoria’s new long-COVID clinic at Royal Jubilee Hospital.
After opening on March 1, the clinic has received 60 referrals to date. It’s staffed by four doctors and a team of other healthcare workers.
“Full-time occupational therapist, physiotherapist, social worker, we have two full-time nurses and a research assistant,” said Dr. Jessica Belle, medical lead for the Victoria clinic.
The clinic is now the fifth in the province and the only one on the entire Island, although they can see patients from anywhere using virtual technology.
“For Victoria patients, we are seeing them in person, we often have patients coming down from up-Island as well, but we see patients from as far away as Whitehorse,” Belle said.
With so few family doctors, patients can also be referred through walk-in clinics or urgent care centres, you don’t need a positive test, but you do have to be three months post-infection.
“It’s been really helpful for a lot of people and it’s a very big deal there is one on the island now,” said Adriana Patino, an administrator with the Long-COVID Canada support group.
Patino has been attending the clinic at St. Paul’s hospital in Vancouver. She says the clinics are proving really helpful, but there can be long waits.
“These clinics are great when they are established but the correct proper funding and the correct staffing is also crucial.”
It took Patino six months to get into the clinic at St. Paul’s but she believes the waitlists at the other four clinics are shorter.
Belle says so far, Victoria’s clinic hasn’t had any staffing issues.
“Here on the island we had excellent uptake in terms of our allied health members and with the physician group and nursing group on people who really wanted to work in the clinic,” she said. “Instead of leaving the healthcare field or leaning into the burnout that we can all be feeling right now, we’ve become motivated to try to make a difference.”
The Ministry of Health says the median time between registration in the post-COVID clinic program and initial visit is 55 days but that actual wait times can vary widely from seven days to several months.
As of April 1, 2022, 2,354 patients have received at least one visit to a clinic in B.C.