Future Nobleman staff writer Ryan Sanghavi explores how his father, Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, M.D., is working to support those affected by the coronavirus pandemic - while also having contracted the virus himself.
“I thought it was just allergies or irritation,” my father, Darshak Sanghavi, M.D. recalled. “A few days later, just going up the stairs, I was so tired that I had to rest.” Dr. Sanghavi developed a moderate case of COVID-19 in mid-March, just before the majority of schools and businesses closed. His illness greatly affected our family dynamic, and sent him into isolation within our house after symptoms worsened.
Working through a pandemic is incredibly complicated and dangerous for healthcare providers and medical workers, as they must provide treatment for the sick while keeping themselves and others safe. As a medical worker himself, Dr. Sanghavi expressed the importance of social distancing and sick leave. He admitted, “I didn't suspect it could be COVID-19 until after a week of fevers, and [when I] was finally able to get tested.” He notified all of his recent contacts and close coworkers to warn them, though none developed a case of the illness.
Dr. Sanghavi currently serves as the Chief Medical Officer for UnitedHealthcare (UNH), a healthcare insurance company with constituents across the nation. As the manager for Medicare and retirement, he picked up many responsibilities once the coronavirus reached the United States. “COVID is particularly dangerous in older people,” he explained, “and in fact, the first major outbreak in the United States, in the state of Washington, affected a nursing home. The patients were a part of our group.”
That nursing home is the Life Care Center of Kirkland, where many residents were enrolled in Medicare Advantage, a program funded by the federal government and managed by several private corporations. UNH, which runs the largest Medicare Advantage operation in the country, scrambled to contain the cases in Washington and provide life-saving medical care to those critically ill from the disease throughout February and March.
Dr. Sanghavi described how he and the UnitedHealthcare staff approached combatting the crisis: “We wanted to make sure that anybody who needed treatment could get it. We made it so you would never have to pay extra money or any cost if you got tested for COVID or ended up getting hospitalized.” He also aided the initiative in relocating some doctors’ appointments from offices to the virtual world: “If you talk to your doctor using telemedicine with Skype, or Zoom, or even by telephone, we’ll pay for that as if you’re seeing your doctor in person.” Furthermore, through the company Buoy Health, UNH helped to distribute an online symptom checker for the coronavirus. The “buoyhealth.com” website uses artificial intelligence in order to direct users to the necessary healthcare providers based on the results of each completed form.
The goal of these various programs is to alleviate the financial burden of treatment presented by the pandemic, as well as encourage the infected to stay home and seek medical advice while remaining socially isolated.
Although Dr. Sanghavi is continuing to work towards flattening the curve of new cases across the United States, he shared some insight as to how the crisis could have been better handled: “The only thing we can do [now] to stop the progression is broad-based social distancing. I would have liked to have seen if the whole country did it all at the same time, rather than some states going first and others not participating.” More organized preparation on the federal and state levels could have slowed the progression of the virus, though the most effective method of containment at this point is to continue the suspension of non-essential business and public activity.
As of April 25, there have been more than 50,000 deaths related to the coronavirus in the United States. However, Dr. Sanghavi believes that the largest threat to the majority of Americans at the moment is not disease, but declining physical and mental wellness. “Loneliness, in older people in particular, is almost as dangerous to their health as having high blood pressure and diabetes,” Dr. Sanghavi said. Many nursing homes are restricting any outdoor activities for their residents, and senior citizens in every state are being urged not to leave their homes at all.
As a result, the elderly feel the extreme detrimental effects of isolation. Dr. Sanghavi advises that people over the age of 65, in addition to any individuals currently quarantined, should stay engaged by reading, completing puzzles and physical exercises, and staying social. Interactions over audio-visual platforms or the telephone are essential to mental health for all ages.
Discovering new hobbies and maintaining relationships is crucial for all at this time, according to Dr. Sanghavi, especially considering the possibility of a lockdown prolonged for multiple months. He explained, “There’s no treatment for COVID right now, and it is critical that people find some sense of purpose.”
*** If you have a story that you'd like to share –– COVID or non-COVID related –– please reach out to anyone on the Nobleman staff to be a guest writer! ***