Ascension Wisconsin has launched a clinic inside its existing facility in Oak Creek, a southern Milwaukee suburb, to treat COVID-19 patients with lingering symptoms. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)
Ascension Wisconsin has launched a clinic inside its existing facility in Oak Creek, a southern Milwaukee suburb, to treat COVID-19 patients with lingering symptoms. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

A significant amount of COVID-19 patients experience serious long-term effects.

Ascension Wisconsin, one of the state’s largest healthcare providers, on Tuesday launched what is believed to be the state’s first clinic for treatment of lingering COVID-19 symptoms.

The clinic—located at Ascension’s existing facility in Oak Creek, a southern Milwaukee suburb—will be a “one-stop shop” for former coronavirus patients who have lasting effects such as chronic fatigue, difficulty breathing, heart inflammation, cognitive fog, and mental health issues, according to a press release. 

It is not yet known exactly how many people experience lasting effects, but Dr. Erin O’Tool, a family medicine provider for Ascension’s Oak Creek clinic, said studies from around the world have shown the number to be anywhere from 10% to 50% of COVID patients. These extended effects have so far been shown to last weeks or months, and they can impact even people with mild to moderate cases, O’Tool said.

“Because of the sheer number of people that are becoming infected—I think we crossed the 10 million mark in the United States now—there’s going to be a need to see patients that are having persistent symptoms after they’ve recovered from the acute illness,” O’Tool said.

Even if 10% of COVID patients have lingering effects it would still pose an issue, O’Tool said, because that would mean at least 1 million Americans would need continued care.

“There’s a whole number, a whole host of [lasting] symptoms that people have been reporting,” O’Tool said. “And really, it’s evolving, so we really don’t know what all that picture looks like, No. 1. And No. 2, we don’t really know what those symptoms necessarily mean yet.”

It’s also unclear who gets those symptoms and why, O’Tool said.

Dr. Patty Golden, Ascension’s primary care medical director for the Milwaukee area, said COVID-19 is not a “cookie-cutter” illness.

“Who we would have suspected potentially would be having some more lingering effects are not consistently being the patients that are presenting to our COVID recovery program,” Golden said. “And so, this is a huge learning curve for all of us within the medical community.”

Golden said eligible patients can sign up for an appointment at the Oak Creek clinic on Ascension’s website