Surviving a Car Accident During a Pandemic
Posted Aug 24, 2020 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
For over fifteen years, I have subspecialized in an area of trauma psychology dealing with surviving car accidents. No one wants to think about what is involved for the hundreds of thousands of people who each year survive car accidents in the United States, and indeed many millions worldwide. In doing research for my forthcoming book, I discovered we are talking about the 40,000-death range year after year and survivors in the estimated fifty million range. When it comes to car accidents, we are talking about a yearly worldwide pandemic—but public health officials have yet to find effective preventive measures to level the curve.
Car accident survivors often deal with depression, anxiety, driving phobias, posttraumatic stress disorders, orthopedic injuries that require ongoing medical procedures, and often most disabling of all, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
Many of the courageous car accident survivors I serve in individual and group psychotherapy during their often long course of recovery—sometimes lasting many months or in some cases, years—are daily battling feelings of isolation, intense anxiety, and concerns about their physical, psychological, and economic futures. Now throw in a global pandemic of COVID-19, which creates its own batch of mental health challenges including anxiety, uncertainty, fears, and sometimes illness of unknown magnitude.
Additionally, many accident survivors have been cut-off from essential medical services they require due to medical practices having to shut down in-person services. Patients who are already dealing with cognitive challenges from brain injuries were then forced to learn a whole new technology of telehealth. Many elderly patients did not even have cell phones that allowed for video conferences, and were initially told they could not use a regular telephone to receive medical and mental health services; however, fortunately, government regulations eventually allowed this. Medical transportation services ended and patients are dealing with increased isolation.
For many injured survivors of serious car accidents at this time, they are dealing with trauma on top of trauma. For those who were already living in situations of limited resources, the situation quickly becomes overwhelming. Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have witnessed many patients who are further confronted with car insurance company practices of cutting off coverage for needed mental health and medical services. Those most vulnerable are often the first to be targeted.
Sadly, this is a frequent practice, which injured survivors are shocked to experience, having no idea of how insurance for medical coverage works until after the car accident fact. However, during a pandemic—when insured patients are already dealing with trauma on top of trauma—to terminate services based on often highly questionable “independent medical examination” results is, in my mind, reprehensible.
During the state of emergency, many government policies were put into place to protect the citizens, such as allowing people whose driver’s license expired to be allowed to continue to drive for a period of time. The filing of taxes was allowed to be delayed. Mortgage payments were allowed to go into forbearance. But auto insurance companies terminating mental health and medical care for accident survivors is, from my experience, in full force. I would like to see the government restrain auto insurance companies from terminating coverage of essential services during this pandemic. In my view, it is the right thing to do.
James F. Zender, PhD (2020). Recovering From Your Car Accident: The Complete Guide to Reclaiming Your Life. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.