Count Vikram Sengupta, MD, among the slew of health care workers feeling overwhelmed by the impact that COVID-19 is having on the delivery of health care in Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs.
“Nobody in the country is suffering like New York City,” said Dr. Sengupta, chief medical officer of Thrivewell Infusion, which operates three stand-alone infusion centers in the region: a four-chair center in Crown Heights, a 10-chair center in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and an eight-chair center in Manhasset. “We have 30%-50% of all cases in the country. I’ve been reading the news, and some people think this thing is going away. We’re in great distress here. There need to be new strategies moving forward. The whole world has changed. Our whole approach to ambulatory care has changed.”
In early March 2020, when it became clear that New York hospitals would face a tidal wave of citizens infected with COVID-19, Thrivewell began to receive an influx of referrals originating from concerned patients, providers, payers, and even large integrated health care systems, all in an effort to help prevent infectious exposure through infusion in hospital-based settings. “We are trying to accommodate them as swiftly as possible,” said Dr. Sengupta, who was interviewed for this story on April 9. “There’s been a huge uptick from that standpoint. We’ve made sure that we’ve kept our facilities clean by employing standards that have been released by the CDC, as well as by the major academic centers who are dealing with this firsthand, and also with guidance from the National Infusion Center Association.”
He and his colleagues launched a pop-up infusion center in the Bronx to help offload Montefiore Medical Center, “because they’re so overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients that they need help taking care of the autoimmune patients,” Dr. Sengupta said. “That’s the role we’re playing. We’ve made our resources available to these centers in a very flexible way in order to ensure that we do the best thing we can for everybody.”
Thrivewell is also deploying a mobile infusion unit to recovered COVID-19 patients who require an infusion for their autoimmune disease, in order to minimize the risk of contamination and transmission in their stand-alone centers. The RV-sized unit, about the size of a Bloodmobile, is equipped with infusion chairs and staffed by a physician and nurse practitioner. “The objective is continuant care and reduction of cross-contamination, and also, on a broader health care systems level, to ensure that we as ambulatory infusion center providers can offload an overburdened system,” he said.
Dr. Sengupta, who has assisted on COVID-19 inpatient wards at New York University as a volunteer, is also leading a trial of a stem cell-derived therapy developed by Israel-based Pluristem Therapeutics, to treat New York–area patients severely ill from COVID-19 infection. “There are reports from Wuhan, China, in which clinicians are delivering IV mesenchymal stem cells to patients who are on mechanical ventilators, and the patients are getting better,” he said. “I have initiated a study in which we have three cohorts: One is the outpatient setting in which we are trying to treat COVID-19 patients who have hypoxia but have been turned away from overwhelmed EDs and need some therapy. We will be converting one of our infusion centers to conduct this trial. We are also going to be administering this [stem cell-derived therapy] to COVID-19 patients in ICUs, in EDs, and on med-surg floors throughout the city.”