The following piece was written by Wood River Health's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jonathan Gates and published in the Westerly Sun in May 2023.
As we ramp-down from COVID, allowing masks now only when patients feel sick, I find myself reflecting on what happened during the first wave – before we had medications, before we had vaccines. We all took the almost unprecedented step of social distancing. Everyone who was able to transitioned to virtual work, and many of us saw our service-related jobs disappear. Throughout history, necessity has been the mother of invention, and we were empowered – or forced – to find new ways to manage our lives and navigate these novel risks.
As a direct result of the pandemic, most of us, children and families in particular, dropped our use of healthcare to what can only be described as pre-1970’s levels – partly because insurers then would not pay for video visits, but also because we were afraid of getting sick while seeking help. Most Americans stopped going to the Emergency Rooms for the summer of 2020; ER visits even now remain below pre-COVID levels.
But do you know what did not change during COVID? ER use by people with depression, anxiety, bipolar, and other mental health conditions. People living with these conditions continued to visit ERs 2-4 times more often than patients without these diagnoses, testament to the fact that, on average, mental health conditions make it more difficult to wait for appointments and coordinate care.
Maintaining one’s mental health is so important because it colors every decision and emotion we make or feel. I chose to join Wood River Health’s providers because integrated care is core to our mission. Behavioral health and medical providers actively coach patients and coordinate care. We even make introductions for patients the same day. Chronic health conditions, anxiety, depression, gingivitis, cavities, life changes, and relationship issues are all a part of our health and wellbeing. We choose to help the whole person.
During Mental Health Awareness Month, I encourage you to think about your own mind/body balance, and check in with your loved ones about theirs. If counsellors or medications are not preferred, then consider trying other ways to relieve mental health symptoms. Socializing with others, developing a new hobby, taking a walk, and connecting with nature’s quiet energy - these are all ways to restore emotional resilience - and improve one’s physical health in the process.
About Dr. Gates
A South County native, Jonathan Gates, MDCM has served as Wood River Health’s Chief Medical Officer since January 2023. He trained at McGill University Faculty of Medicine and completed residency at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine. Board certified in Internal Medicine, he formerly served as Chief Medical Officer for Accountable Care at Providence Community Health Centers. During his tenure, Dr. Gates garnered over $24 million in net-new Medicaid revenue for the center while increasing patient safety and equity of health care access using proactive care management and flexible processes for primary care teams.