Dr. Andrenette Fleming began collecting COVID-19 test kits back in February.
The long-time Memphis physician took heed to the warnings that seniors and those with pre-existing health conditions were at a higher risk of developing serious complications from the virus, if diagnosed.
Because 90 percent of her patients are elderly, Fleming said she wanted to ensure that they had access to testing and adequate healthcare amid the growing pandemic.
By Thursday, there were 81,321 reported coronavirus cases in the United States and 1,000-plus deaths, making the U.S. the hardest hit country. The number of cases in Shelby County was 198, with 957 reported statewide. Three people had died in Tennessee.
“I am out here taking care of my people – the elderly and the poor,” Fleming said.
Statistics show that pandemics such as COVID-19 disproportionately affect seniors and the working poor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Most of her patients use TennCare, the program that provides health insurance for the disabled, elderly or uninsurable.
Despite the shortage of testing kits, which still is a nationwide issue, Fleming was a step ahead of the curve.
In addition to testing her patients early on, she became the first doctor in Shelby County to offer curbside testing for COVID-19 at her Women’s Health Care Associates clinic earlier this month.
Still, the doctor admitted the process hasn’t been easy. As the pandemic spreads, the demand for tests has been greater than the supply.
“Right now, there aren’t enough supplies, not just tests; there is a shortage in supplies too,” she said. “I know that many of my patients may not get the test or the care they need, if they didn’t come here.”
Fleming noted that because of the high demand, prices for general supplies have skyrocketed. The HAZMAT gear that she would normally order at $30 a box is now $400. The surge in prices has prevented her from offering free testing – something she would like to do. Instead, she’s forced to charge a minimal fee to cover costs.
“I charge $60. I’m not making any money. I’m not doing it for the money. …I want to help out the people in my community.”
So far, none of her patients have tested positive for coronavirus, but that doesn’t stop Fleming from checking on them daily if they’re experiencing flu-like or cold-like symptoms.
“I call them and ask, ‘Are you feeling better, worse, the same or what?’” she said. “They need that.”
At Oak Street Health, an organization that provides preventative health care resources to seniors, workers have amped up their resource list to provide individuals 65 and older with easy access to resources such as the services being offered by Fleming and other organizations throughout the city.
“Many of our seniors have expressed concerns about going out to get groceries. They want to know if they are able to still see a doctor and, if so, how they can go about it?” said Moses Trent, Oak Street Health’s Outreach Director.
“It’s critical that we provide them with that support during this time when many of them are concerned.”
Oak Street also works with seniors on mental health. This especially is crucial during a time when most have to remain isolated from friends and family as a result of the pandemic.
“The healthcare and wellness of our seniors matters now more than ever,” said Aramis Jones, the organization’s relations manager. “With that, the Oak Street Health-Frayser clinic is operating and actively providing intake for new patients during this unpredictable time.”
Jones urged residents to contact the clinic to coordinate virtual- or phone-intake appointments. And while the organization does not provide on-site testing, they can point their clients in the right direction.
Recently, Christ Community Health began providing COVID-19 testing-by-appointment, placing a special focus on the elderly.
“We know that there is a great demand for COVID-19 testing and we have been testing patients as needed in our clinics. However, we realize that people who are not our patients need access to testing,” Shantelle Leatherwood, CEO of Christ Community said in an official statement.
As more confirmed coronavirus cases emerge in Shelby County, Fleming said she will continue administering tests as needed to her existing patients, along with new ones, who are experiencing symptoms.
“It’s a lot of work and it’s just me,” she said. “But I plan to help as many people as I can during this time, especially my older patients.”