January 9, 2021
Dear Patients: We have been receiving many calls and emails inquiring about Covid-19 vaccine. We strongly endorse the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines currently available and look forward to other Covid-19 vaccines likely to be approved as well. We would direct you to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health website to learn more:
So far the distribution of vaccine has been directed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and we expect that to continue for many more months. The DPH has established priorities for who will get vaccinated and an estimated timeline, which you can view on the DPH website above. CRMA providers are expected to adhere to these guidelines.
We do not know when we may begin vaccinating patients, but we believe it will begin in February with “Phase 2” priority groups. The DPH has established the following priority, in order:
- Individuals Age 75+ OR with multiple comorbidities for Covid19
- Essential Workers (childcare, teachers, transit, sanitation, grocery, utility, food, public work, and public health)
- Individuals Age 65+
- Individuals with 1 comorbidity
The DPH estimates Phase 3, i.e. everyone else, will begin in April. We believe demand for vaccine will outstrip supply during the first few months. We will make best efforts to administer in a way that will minimize long lines and jammed phone lines. We do not intend to offer vaccination on a walk-in basis.
Thus, please hold off calling to find out about vaccine availability. If you don’t fit into a Phase 2 category, you should expect to wait until April. If you qualify for Phase 2, the top priority sub-groups will likely start in February and the lower priority sub-groups in March. As we receive vaccine, we will outreach to targeted groups of patients to schedule their vaccination based on priority guidelines from the DPH.
We are hoping to implement patient self-scheduling via Patient Gateway, so you won’t need to call. We strongly encourage you to sign up with Patient Gateway, by visiting www.CharlesRiverMed.com and clicking on the “Patient Gateway” tab on our home page.
Please continue to follow all the Covid-19 precautions, such as masks and social distancing. If you believe you’ve been exposed or have symptoms, please call your CRMA provider and we can schedule you to be tested within 24 hours.
Covid-19 Testing at CRMA
CRMA has been offering Covid-19 testing since June. There has been a national shortage of testing supplies from the beginning and that has severely impacted our ability to meet patient demand. We believe test results should be available within 24 hours in order to be most effective. Most other facilities are sending their samples to outside labs where the turnaround time is highly variable; sometimes up to a week. Or they are using somewhat less reliable Antigen tests.
We’re pleased to report we recently purchased a new PCR machine and will be converting all of our inhouse Covid-19 testing to PCR, with a target turnaround of less than 24 hours. Even better, we now use a simple “nasal swab” to collect specimens rather than the more complicated and uncomfortable “nasopharyngeal swab”. The nasal swab is simple enough for patients to self-administer.
ALL CRMA COVID TESTING IS BY APPOINTMENT ONLY. If you would like to schedule a covid test:
- Call your CRMA physician. He or she will schedule you for specimen collection. Our Covid testing site does not directly schedule patients, nor are we able to accommodate unscheduled patients.
- If testing is recommended, your CRMA physician will register and schedule you, as well as place an order for your test.
- Our Covid testing site generally operates M-F 10-4:30. We may offer weekend hours when feasible.
- CRMA’s main Covid collection facility is located at 571 Union Ave, Framingham. The Covid Testing site is near the back of the parking lot, on the right side of the building. Keep an eye out for the shed and the signs. There are several parking spaces marked by traffic cones designated for Covid Testing.
- When you arrive at the Covid testing site, please stay in your car. One of the Covid testing staff will come to your car.
- You will be asked some simple screening questions. If you are having Covid symptoms, the staff may add Flu and Strep tests to your order.
- If you are not registered in our electronic record or don’t have updated insurance, you may be asked to fill out a registration form.
- If you don’t have active Covid symptoms, some CRMA offices may be able to collect your sample in their office or in their parking lot. Our Covid nasal swab can be self-administered. If you have symptoms, then we would need to collect separate samples for Flu and Strep and that would require the controlled environment of our 571 Union ave facility. Your CRMA physician office will direct you to the most appropriate option.
- CRMA Covid tests will be billed to your insurance. Most insurance plans are waiving deductibles for patients with symptoms or exposures. If you’re seeking testing for travel, school, or work purposes, insurance coverage is variable but many are paying. We recommend you check with your insurance. The self-pay fee for Covid testing is $125.
- Your test results will be sent to your physician, who will followup with you. You may also check your Patient Gateway account for test results. Covid testing should be completed within 24 hours. If we are running short of reagents, then we will send samples to Quest Diagnostics and the turnaround will be more variable.
We at Charles River Medical Associates hope that you and your loved ones are safe during this very difficult time. We understand that many of you are dealing with hardships of family illness, social distancing, childcare issues, and job uncertainty, in addition to general concern about the future. We want to keep you updated about our efforts at CRMA to continue caring for our patients and are writing this letter to share our plans to restructure our offices.
We believe Covid-19 will be with us for some time. For the last 2 months, most of our care has been delivered via telemedicine and most testing and in-person care has been deferred. As time goes on, we will have more and more patients whose care cannot be deferred any longer. We are also worried about patients with health concerns who haven’t been calling because they assume that they cannot be seen. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health released guidelines for healthcare providers to partially resume services, and we will begin reopening this week.
Our top priority is to keep you and our staff safe. If you require in-person services, we have implemented the following protocols to keep you safe:
- Masks: All staff, patients, and visitors will wear masks while in CRMA offices. We ask patients to bring their own masks from home.
- Covid-19 Risk: Patients with active Covid-19 symptoms and patients who require procedures that induce coughing or sneezing, create risks for CRMA staff and other patients. Some of these patients and procedures will be referred to other CRMA and non-CRMA facilities that are equipped specifically to see these patients.
- Symptom Checking: All CRMA staff are screened for symptoms at the start of each day, and staff with even minor symptoms are sent home. You should expect to be screened for Covid-19 symptoms upon entering a CRMA office. Most symptomatic patients will be treated via telemedicine or be referred to non-CRMA facilities equipped for this if they need to be seen in person.
- Patient Companions: If you bring a companion, they may be asked to wait in the car. We will make exceptions for patients whose companions are needed for conduct of the visit.
- Waiting Rooms: We plan to minimize the number of patients in our waiting rooms though small, impactful changes. We have streamlined the check-in/out process and you may be asked complete some check-in functions online or over the phone, either from your home or from your car in the parking lot. You may be brought straight to an exam room. You may be asked to wait in your car and will receive a text message or call when we’re ready. The waiting room itself will have fewer chairs than normal. Finally, you should expect to be asked to use hand sanitizer during check-in.
- Scheduling: CRMA providers will alternate in-person and telemedicine visits, to reduce the density of patients within the office at any given time. Procedures will have extra time added in to allow for lower patient density and extra cleaning between patients. Walk-in services such as phlebotomy will be scheduled.
- Pre-Visit Covid-19 Test: CRMA’s Endoscopy center will require patients to have a Covid-19 test done within 48 hours prior to their procedure. The same may done for any service that requires you to take off your mask for a prolonged period of time, such as a stress test.
- Closed/Reduced Services: Some CRMA services are inherently difficult to operate safely, given the typical patient volume and layout of the office. Your physician may refer you to another provider of that service, such as the hospital.
- Off Hours Access: Screening tests such as mammograms will be done primarily on the weekends when there aren’t other CRMA Radiology services using the same space and we can ensure social distancing.
- Cleaning: CRMA staff have been trained on enhanced exam room cleaning protocols. All rooms will be cleaned and wiped down in between patients.
We are confident that the protocols above will allow us to serve you safely. Please be patient while we adapt to our new protocols. We don’t know how long this crisis will last but rest assured we will continue to monitor and modify our protocols in order to provide the excellence in patient care that you have come to expect. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your CRMA provider via phone or Patient Gateway.
Charles River Medical Associates