With limited access to transportation and modern technology, the Amish community is in a vulnerable position during the pandemic. To close the access gap, UPMC Susquehanna's mobile EMS unit makes house calls.
"What we’ve been able to do with COVID-19 in the Plain community is really based on a relationship that was built over many decades," said UPMC Primary Care Provider Dr. John Boll.
Dr. Boll works closely with the Amish. The health system's Amish outreach strategy is multifold.
Informational fliers about COVID-19 were circulated throughout the Plain community. They were posted at gathering places, placed in existing patients' mailboxes, and given in quantity to community liaisons.
The fliers explain COVID-19 symptoms and how to self-isolate. They warn against hiring a driver and list a local number to call for help instead.
Amish patients are screened by phone and UPMC Susquehanna Regional EMS (SREMS) is deployed to their home to collect a specimen for a COVID-19 test, if necessary.
"Otherwise, they would be at risk for hiring a driver and infecting the driver en route to the testing site," UPMC Williamsport Communications Manager Tyler Wagner said.
The Amish have certain members of their community who act as liaisons with the healthcare system, Dr. Boll said.
UPMC Susquehanna staff communicate with these liaisons to get information out to the rest of the community.
"The Amish are very good at figuring out how to get the healthcare that they need when they require it," Dr. Boll said.
But some people may delay seeking treatment, Dr. Boll said.
"The risk is that they will be delayed in that healthcare because they will have tried other things first. We were concerned with coronavirus that if they delayed reaching out it would put them at risk for transmitting the virus to other people," Dr. Boll said.
Do members of the Plain community use telemedecine?
"They would certainly talk with us over the telephone but they would not want to use video," Dr. Boll said.
If someone in the Plain community needs a COVID-19 test, how do you help them by phone?
"If they call in, I go over what their symptoms are and make sure that they’re appropriately quarantined and that they understand about coronavirus. Then I go over the tests," Dr. Boll said.
Then, SREMS goes to the home to collect the specimen.
"If they were to get out there and there were other people who are symptomatic...they have a standing order that would enable them to get the test that they need," Dr. Boll said.
But they've not yet encountered that scenario, Dr. Boll said.
The mobile SREMS unit serves patients throughout UPMC Susquehanna's 12 county region, including Lycoming, Tioga, Clinton, Union, and Northumberland.