Corrales physicians, like colleagues around the nation and around the world, find themselves in perplexing, somewhat contradictory circumstances.
As of May 3, the COVID-19 pandemic had killed more than 250,000 people worldwide and sickened at least 3.2 million, including 3,850 in New Mexico where 151 perished. Five cases were documented in Corrales.
At the end of April, the United States led the world in confirmed COVID-19 infections. Compared to other communities, Corrales has long had a relatively large population of doctors and other health care professionals. But the need for medical attention during the coronavirus outbreak has not necessarily increased the need for their services, nor the advisability of offering it.
Several doctors contacted by Corrales Comment expressed serious concern that the general public and their own non-COVID-19 patients are not getting critically needed medical attention. “COVID-19 has thrown a screwball at mankind, New Mexico included,” physician Fred Hashimoto replied. “It has stressed medical resources, so to have all hands on-deck seems helpful.
“However, having all hands on the front-line is not always the best course of action. My division at University of New Mexico Medicine believes that providers 65 years-old and over —I’m quite a bit over— should not be exposed to patients and should practice medicine remotely, by phone or videoconferencing.
“For the last five-plus years, I’ve been doing mostly geriatric medicine at UNM’s Senior Health Center. Over a decade ago, I thought that I’d retire but I’ve remained active part-time in medicine because I like patient care and believe that I bring value to that, COVID-19 or not.”
Although some heavily-stricken parts of the United States have issued a call for volunteer doctors, New Mexico has not, he explained. “New York has welcomed providers under the age of 50, to come help out on their front lines, but older folk are not solicited.”
“The reason for age restrictions is that older persons, including providers, are higher-risk to die if they get COVID-19. For the general public, mortality rates for people over 75 have exceeded 10 percent, with males higher than females. That’s relatively big.”
Hashimoto added that although the new coronavirus “causes significant morbidity and mortality, the pre-COVID-19 diseases of heart, lungs, diabetes, cancers, etc. still exist and need to be cared for.
“It’s been surmised that COVID-19 has caused more illness and death to persons who do not have that disease since less attention —by patients and providers— is being paid to non-COVID-19 problems. Older providers can help with taking care of non-COVID-19 patients, especially when younger co-workers are deployed to front lines.”
He said he has been making telephone “office visits” from his home for his regular patients. “I don’t know the status of insurance reimbursements for that, but I do it because I think it’s the right thing to do. Patients uniformly appreciate those calls because no travel time to clinic or waiting time in the clinic or physical examinations or one-on-one confrontations (like, “Are you still smoking?” They seem grateful that providers are reaching out and caring for their health and well-being.
“From a provider’s standpoint, telephone visits are not the optimal doctor visit, but they’re okay in a pinch and temporarily.
“If the COVID-19 hospital intensive care unit loads become heavier and some of my younger Senior Health clinic co-workers get pulled to the inpatient services, then I will fill in and also do what they have been recently doing in the clinic. So, although I’m not on the front lines in New York or taking care of hospitalized patients, I feel I continue to have medical value to my patients and others in need of medical help in these trying times.”
A long-time emergency room doctor, Bob Khanlian, said his continuing service at New Mexico’s rural hospitals is all the more appreciated in these difficult times. He has been commuting from his home in Corrales to a hospital in Clayton. When he stops in for lunch at the local restaurant, he said he is almost always greeted by well-wishers. Khanlian said he enjoys the long drive at the start and end of each week; he drives along in silence, savoring the opportunity to meditate.
Dayton Voorhees, a retired family practice physician, said he is unaware of any already retired Corrales doctors who have gone back to work. “I’m unaware personally of any retired Corrales Docs who are volunteering their services during this time.
“There is a clearinghouse for health care volunteering that is run through the N.M. Department of Health called the Medical Service Corps,” he explained.
“I’ve signed up with them, but as of yet the only requests that have come through are for volunteer stints that I was uncomfortable taking. They were asking for two weeks of 12 hours on-12 hours off working in a field hospital caring for lower level COVID-19 patients. I’m waiting for other opportunities to come through.”
He said the NMDOH administrator of that program is Bobbie Mackenzie, who can be contacted through email at firstname.lastname@example.org
“It’s really interesting, and sad, to me how this is affecting regular medical care,” Voorhees added. “My colleagues in the office where I worked are working mostly by telephonic interactions, and they are not busy at all.
“No one wants to come anywhere near a doctor’s office these days, and I’m certain that many chronic illnesses, and even acute ones, are going untreated, with probable long-term negative consequences. And it’s heart breaking to hear of medical staff layoffs while all this is going on.”
Steve Komadina, long-time metro area ob-gyn physician, said the medical malpractice situation in New Mexico deters doctors going back in to help in the current pandemic situation. “My understanding is that on one want back in because of the malpractice issue.
“One malpractice company said they would do it for free, but the State Insurance Commissioner said no.”