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13 WTHR Indianapolis | Indianapolis Local News & Weather

Health care provider repurposes pickup vans for food delivery to patients

Oak Street Health has shifted into a virtual care center to make sure its senior patients are OK both physically and mentally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - People with underlying health conditions and the elderly are most at risk for serious illness and even death from COVID-19.

That's keeping many seniors isolated at home. Oak Street Health has repurposed its transportation system to stay connected and care for patients.

Thomas Rexroat lives alone with his cat on the southwest side of Indianapolis. Rexroat has trouble walking because of nerve damage in his legs. He suffered burns over 90 percent of his body in a house fire seven years ago.

“I knew when I got burned up in that fire God put me here back for a reason, because they told me most people die from the smoke or the fire, and neither one of them killed me,” said Rexroat. “So, since I've gotten well enough to move around, I try to help people. But now since that virus, I'm trying to stay my distance." Government and health officials have urged seniors and people with compromised immune systems to stay home during the pandemic - not even to go to the doctor, unless absolutely necessary.

Oak Street Health is a primary health center for older adults who are on Medicare. But when patients had to stop coming to the office because of COVID-19, doctors started regular wellness checks by phone and video.

"To see how they were doing socially, mentally, give them some support, and then we screened them for unmet needs,” said Dr. Maria Wilson, Oak Street Health Senior Medical Director. “We found out that food obviously is a big one."

Oak Street Health has partnered with local food pantries to make about 600 deliveries to Indiana patients, and 3,000 nationwide, in the past eight weeks.

"Our green vans are usually used to pick up our patients from their homes, bring them to the center and take them back to their homes,” said Dr. Wilson. “But we have changed their purpose now, and they actually pick up and deliver food for our patients who are most in need."

"Plus they call and check on me every day,” said Rexroat. “That's amazing, because I know a lot of other people have doctors, and they don't hear anything from their doctor. My doctors even call me from home, their home, to see how I'm doing and make sure that I'm staying in and staying safe."

Wilson said Oak Street Health is conducting 93 percent of patient visits by phone or video conference right now. The company has four Indianapolis locations and is accepting new patients.