Published on September 09, 2021

Nash UNC expands access to life-saving COVID treatment

Originally published in the Rocky Mount Telegram

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A recent executive order issued by Gov. Roy Cooper is designed to expand access to a COVID treatment that already is available at Nash UNC Health Care.

Cooper signed Executive Order 232 last week to make it easier for North Carolinians to access treatment for COVID-19. The order authorizes and directs State Health Director Dr. Betsey Tilson to issue a statewide standing order to expand access to monoclonal antibody treatment, which if taken early can decrease the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death.

The order will be in effect through Nov. 30.

“Expanding access to monoclonal antibody therapy will help more patients across the state get this highly effective COVID-19 treatment,” Cooper said. “In addition to getting more people vaccinated, we need to do all we can to save the lives of people who become infected.”

Nash UNC Health Care has been offering the outpatient treatment since November 2020 but is working to expand the number of patients who can receive the treatment in the wake of the recent surge in cases. The hospital has set up a special outpatient COVID Treatment Center to allow patients to take the monoclonal antibody infusion in privacy and without endangering other patients.

The treatment offered at Nash UNC Health Care consists of an IV infusion of the Regeneron COVID-19 Monoclonal Antibody Treatment. The infusion includes man-made proteins designed to act like human antibodies in the immune system to fight off the COVID virus and slow down its replication. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has authorized the emergency use of mAb as a treatment for COVID.

The IV takes about 30 minutes to enter the body. Patients then are required to wait about an hour so medical professionals can monitor for possible allergic reactions or side effects.

“We have now treated more than 350 patients with this valued therapy, which reduces severity of COVID-19 symptoms,” said Dr. Crystal Hayden, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer at Nash UNC Health Care. “We hope to continue to educate the community on how this outpatient treatment can reduce their COVID symptoms and likelihood of needing hospitalization.”

Across the UNC Health system, just 2.7 percent of patients who received the treatment have visited the Emergency Department after their treatment and only 2.4 percent were admitted to a hospital for COVID following treatment, Hayden said.

Unlike the vaccine, which is designed to reduce the likelihood of contracting COVID, monoclonal antibody treatment is offered only once a patient tests positive for the virus, or in some cases as a preemptive measure for high-risk patients who have been exposed to COVID.

However, the patient must have had symptoms of COVID-19 for 10 days or less or have been exposed to COVID-19 for the treatment to be effective. If taken early, the treatment can reduce the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death. If patients wait until they are experiencing severe symptoms, it is too late for the treatment in most cases.

Residents do not need to visit a doctor to get a referral for the treatment, though they may want to contact their physician to see if the treatment is right for them. Instead, residents can call the UNC self-referral hotline at 888-850-2684. A staff member will go through the screening process with them to see if they qualify for treatment under the current protocols.

The medication used in the treatment is free to patients under current federal government guidelines. But there is a cost from the medical facility for administering the treatment. At Nash UNC Health Care, that cost can run as high as $510 for uninsured patients. However, many insurance plans, including Medicare Part B, cover the cost entirely.

There are also several federal and local plans that often cover or significantly reduce the cost for many patients who may be underinsured. A financial counselor at Nash UNC will work with patients to determine what funding is available to cover the cost for patients who need the treatment.

“Our goal is to make this treatment as accessible as possible,” said Neveen Morales, director of revenue cycle for Nash UNC Health Care. “We don’t want financial considerations to stand in the way of anyone who needs treatment.”

For more information about monoclonal antibody treatment or treatment options offered at other locations in the state, talk to your primary care provider.