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Napa's St. Joseph Health Medical Group hosts drive-thru screening clinic

From the Complete coronavirus coverage from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan series

Doctors don’t usually make house calls. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, one Napa medical group is doing something almost the same.

Car calls.

Patients of primary care doctors in the St. Joseph Health Medical Group that need to see their primary care physician in person may now be seen using a “drive-through” screening clinic.

“This is an unusual circumstance,” acknowledged Dr. Paul Laband, an internal medicine physician with St. Joseph Health Medical Group. He’s one of the physicians who is helping out at the drive-through clinic.

“Most people have been appreciative and grateful,” he said. “I think the community in general really understands this need for physical distancing” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At their appointed visit time, patients simply drive between the office buildings at 1100 Trancas St., where St. Joseph Health Medical Group staff awaits them. The buildings, often referred to as the Pink Palace, are located next to Queen of the Valley Medical Center.

At the clinic, a temporary table medical supply cart and signs indicate where each car should pull up to.

“Stop Here,” reads one folding sign. “Remain in your car.”

Workers stand at the ready, wearing the appropriate layers of personal protective equipment, including gloves and masks.

Temperatures can be checked, throat swabs taken and ears, noses and throats examined, among other things.

“We can do a limited exam in the car,” said Laband.

“I can listen to lungs, ears, throats. After I talk to the patient, we decide if they need to be tested for anything, including COVID-19, but we can also do testing for influenza, or a rapid strep test, right there. And then if they need treatment, we come up with a treatment plan.”

“If we do a test, we take a sample, the patient drives home and they never get out of the car.”

A “runner” takes throat swabs and other samples to the appropriate office inside the building.

The goal is to reduce the number of people coming into the doctors’ offices. That, in turn, reduces the chance of spreading any possible viruses, COVID-19 in particular.

Using such a drive-through clinic and other such measures “is really an important piece of the overall effort to slow the spread of this virus,” said Laband.

“It helps people maintain physical distancing (and) it’s helping to keep our provider safe,” he said.

The offices of St. Joseph Health Medical Group physicians and providers remain open. But by separating patients who might have the virus from those who need to be seen inside a doctor’s office, it helps protect everyone, he said.

In his own medical practice, “we have a very large proportion of patients who are elderly” and in that high-risk category, noted Laband. “By seeing potentially infectious patients outside the office there is less of a chance (others) would get exposed in our office.”

“Keeping patients who are symptomatic isolated helps protect the community from the virus,” he said.

The “clinic” is by appointment only for existing St. Joseph Health Medical Group patients. It’s not open to the general public.

On weekdays from 1 to 4 p.m. it is staffed by doctors and other staff from the medical group. “It’s a group effort,” said Laband.

A number of physicians and health care workers from that group are seeing fewer patients than normal due to the cancellations and postponements of many elective and non-emergency procedures because of COVID-19.

Since it “opened” about three weeks ago, some 30 to 50 patients have been seen at the clinic, Laband estimated.

Due to patient confidentially, he could not say what they were seeing the doctor for. However, if the patient shows signs of any kind of virus or communicable disease, “We’re very explicit with our instructions. We tell them they need to stay home and self-isolate,” said Laband.

You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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