Family Medicine Doctors ‘Forgotten on the Front Lines’ of the Pandemic

When you think of frontline health care workers, doctors and nurses in hospitals might come to mind, but independent family doctors are in that category, too.



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“Forgotten on the front lines is what we are,” said. Dr. Guy Culpepper, founder of Bent Tree Family Physicians.

Culpepper says the front lines of the pandemic aren’t in emergency rooms, they’re at his front door.

“When you talk about flattening the curve, that curve flattening happened in my office,” he said.

From the parking lot of his Frisco office, Culpepper says more than 7,000 people have been tested for COVID-19. Nearly 1,200 have tested positive.

“We’ve kept 1,100 of them away from hospitals and emergency rooms,” Culpepper said.

Culpepper says he has about 250 active COVID-19 patients. Those recovering from home are checked on by phone every day. “We get about 1,500 telephone calls a day,” he said.

His numbers tell a story. They also speak to his heart.

“Part of the passion I have in managing my COVID patients and managing all my patients is the feeling of I’m only here because of them,” Culpepper said, emotionally.

Like many independent doctors, Culpepper closed his doors in the spring and furloughed all 75 employees.

On the verge of going out of business, it was a GoFundMe page set up by patients that helped him get through.

“We’re only kept up by those handful who know us and appreciate us because we know all too well that most of the country doesn’t know the work we’re doing,” Culpepper said.

Culpepper, who’s been in family medicine for 33 years, says no federal programs exist to sustain private physicians, like him. Nationwide, he says his profession is in crisis because private practices, “can’t handle the economics of a pandemic.”

He says nearly 10% of primary care practices that temporarily closed this year have yet to reopen.

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On the front lines of COVID, nurses confront life and death

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A fire engine wailed its siren up Cotton Avenue and disappeared behind the El Paso Long Term Acute Care hospital.

A man at the front desk held his hand up to a visitor: “Please wait outside. A COVID patient is being transferred.”

Upstairs on the third floor, in an office outside the COVID-19 wing, nurse Valerie Scott updated a co-worker on the patient being rushed by the fire department to an emergency room. She wore black scrubs and spoke from behind a black surgical mask.

The supplemental oxygen wasn’t helping. The man couldn’t breathe.


“I don’t think he is coming back,” she said, worried.

725 people have died of COVID-19 in El Paso since March 23 — the day the county reported the first death tied to the novel coronavirus, according to El Paso Times. Grandparents, parents, siblings and one teenager have died; retired people, working people and teachers have died. Nurses have died.

The bed belonging to the man who left Scott’s hospital in distress would be occupied again that evening. The waitlist for her 15 dedicated COVID-19 beds had swelled overnight from 22 to 32 patients.

Across the city, more than 1,000 people per day are testing positive and the city’s major hospitals are overrun with severely ill and dying El Pasoans. Hundreds of health care workers have flown into El Paso to pick up shifts from exhausted doctors and nurses and to staff tent hospitals erected in parking lots. The refrigerators of six morgue trailers hummed, keeping the bodies cold.

The El Paso Long Term Acute Care hospital, physician-owned and licensed for 33 beds, is pitching in as it can.

“They tried to talk to the family,” Scott told her co-worker, who manages the relationship with acute-care hospitals, about the COVID-19 patient transferred out. “Basically, at this point, it would be better to give him comfort measures… Here there was nothing more we could do.”

She had reason to worry: When doctors have ordered an emergency room transfer of a COVID-19 patient, it meant things had taken a turn for the worse and the patient rarely survived.

The co-worker cursed under her breath.

In the city outside, beyond the hospital’s pale pink stucco walls, El Pasoans went about their day, most in face masks but with few other precautions. People shopped at Target and Walmart and shopping centers. Bars-turned-restaurants kept dining rooms open to guests. A fight between city and county leaders and businesses over restrictions on daily life lumbered through the court system.

The relentless war against a deadly, invisible enemy was out of sight to all but those working its front lines.

The El Paso Long Term Acute Care hospital faces southeast, soaking up morning light, built as it was in 1925 for tuberculosis patients when sunlight was the only cure for another disease that eats away at the lungs and suffocates those who succumb to it.

The COVID-19 wing occupies half of the hospital’s third floor.

Inside, the narrow

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On the front lines of Europe’s surging 2nd COVID crisis: Reporter’s Notebook

I’ve just left the intensive care unit of a hospital in Liege, Belgium. It’s impossible to know of course, but this is quite possibly the epicenter of Europe’s new coronavirus crisis.



a person standing in front of a refrigerator: A health worker standing in an intensive care unit treats a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.


© Yves Herman/Reuters
A health worker standing in an intensive care unit treats a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.

The city of about 200,000 residents nestled in eastern Belgium is at around a 41% infection rate, and the hospital is at full capacity. Intensive care unit numbers have tripled in three weeks. Belgium, which had 100 to 200 cases per day throughout June and early July, is now marking north of 10,000. On Oct. 25, it set a daily record with 17,709.

We stood outside one room — which patients are now forced to share due to overcrowding — to hear the groans of an elderly man who was just admitted. As doctors and nurses attended to him another ambulance swept up outside the window with another case.

MORE: Europe struggling with 2nd surge of COVID-19 case, and it may be worse than the 1st

The doctor guiding us on a tour admitted a chilling fact: health workers here (including himself) are now treating patients knowing they themselves have COVID-19.



a group of people standing in a room: Health workers take care of patients suffering from the coronavirus disease in a recovery room of an operating theatre transformed for COVID-19 patients, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.


© Yves Herman/Reuters
Health workers take care of patients suffering from the coronavirus disease in a recovery room of an operating theatre transformed for COVID-19 patients, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.



a person taking a selfie in a room: A health worker looks on in a recovery room of an operating theatre transformed for patients suffering the coronavirus disease, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.


© Yves Herman/Reuters
A health worker looks on in a recovery room of an operating theatre transformed for patients suffering the coronavirus disease, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.

Gallery: These States Just Broke Grim COVID Records (ETNT Health)

It’s an ethical dilemma, but not a choice this doctor could make. He now tests negative, but he said if he and others like him do not continue working, the health system here would go under. The toll on health workers, already exhausted from the first wave, about to be exacerbated by the second.

Why is it so bad? COVID fatigue, he says. Belgium relaxed the measures that had kept the country safe and now are going to pay a price. Lots of testing, yes. But not so much tracing.

MORE: Further restrictions, curfews imposed in Europe as continent fights ‘second wave’ of coronavirus cases

But they have learned some important lessons from the first wave.



A health worker picks up utensils in a recovery room of an operating theatre transformed for patients suffering the coronavirus disease, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.


© Yves Herman/Reuters
A health worker picks up utensils in a recovery room of an operating theatre transformed for patients suffering the coronavirus disease, at Montlegia CHC clinic in Liege, Belgium, Oct. 29, 2020.



a close up of a woman: A woman takes part in a demonstration at the hospital MontLegia, in Liege, gathering employees, and called by the Belgian trade union National Center of Employees, on Oct. 29, 2020 as the country faces a second wave of infections from COVID-19.


© John Thys/AFP via Getty Images
A woman takes part in a demonstration at the hospital MontLegia, in Liege, gathering employees, and called by the Belgian trade union National Center of Employees, on Oct. 29, 2020 as the country faces a second wave of infections from COVID-19.

We came across Florent, a 75-year-old man in the ICU who said

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As coronavirus cases top 50,000, food lines grow

On a day when Palm Beach County’s recorded coronavirus cases surpassed 50,000 to reach 50,316, the pandemic’s staggering effects could be glimpsed in one food pantry’s distribution line Saturday. 



a car parked on the side of a road: People wait in their cars to be tested for the coronavirus at a drive up rapid testing site at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches Friday in West Palm Beach. (GREG LOVETT / THE PALM BEACH POST)


© Greg Lovett, The Palm Beach Post
People wait in their cars to be tested for the coronavirus at a drive up rapid testing site at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches Friday in West Palm Beach. (GREG LOVETT / THE PALM BEACH POST)

“They just try to hold on, so they don’t have to ask for free food. They’ve done their best to try to find work, but they’ve had to relent,” said Dan Shorter, founder and volunteer chief executive of Feed the Hungry Pantry, which runs the grocery distribution outside the United Methodist Church in West Palm Beach. “The virus has that much of a hold in our community.”

More: Cerabino: Florida’s response to pandemic? Just stop it (from being reported)

The 328 new cases reported in the county Saturday is the fourth time in five days that new cases have topped 200, a spike not seen since Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the full reopening of businesses on Sept. 25.

Statewide cases soared by 4,471 to 776,251. That raises new cases in the past week to 23,770, the most since early September. 

The numbers are even more staggering when you consider the ripples they set off. An eyewitness to what he calls “the hell of this virus,” Shorter said the pantry has seen a dramatic rise in the number of families it serves each month since the start of the pandemic.

“We’ve never seen this many people unemployed. Most of the people we’re feeding, up until March, never thought they would be in a food line. They were living check to check. But you miss a couple of checks and what do you do?” he said. “The new families we’ve seen since March have email addresses and computers. They’re not the historically poor.”

More: Miracle recovery, school district turmoil: Here’s the back story on what The Post does best

Feed the Hungry Pantry went from serving 3,000 families per month to serving 10,000 families per month, Shorter said. And because the charity has been seeing larger households, the amount of provisions granted per family has increased as well — from 120 pounds per family to 150 pounds per family.

“We’re seeing more first-time requests than ever before,” said Shorter, whose food distribution efforts rely on his charity’s public and private-sector partnerships. “Some people have held on for as long as they could. They’ve held onto their savings and supplies, and now they can’t do it any longer. Some got their jobs back only to be laid off again.”

The pandemic numbers do not simply tell the stories of individuals affected physically by a virus — they are indicators of COVID’s domino effect, said one social service strategist working with hard-hit families.

“It’s impacting every part of people’s lives. That’s what we’re seeing,” said Jaime-Lee Bradshaw, chief strategic

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Long lines as Missouri medical marijuana dispensaries open

ST. LOUIS — Missouri’s first licensed marijuana dispensaries opened this weekend in the St. Louis area with long lines.

The two dispensaries run by N’Bliss opened Saturday in Ellisville and Manchester. Another dispensary is expected to open Monday in the Kansas City area nearly two years after Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow the sale of medical marijuana.

To buy the drug, people need approval from a doctor and a state medical marijuana card. Prices are expected to be high initially because the supply is limited in the state at this stage. N’Bliss was charging $125 for an eighth of an ounce of marijuana when it opened Saturday.

Kim Haller said she stood in line Saturday because she has long been frustrated with the high cost of medications and injections she uses to treat her multiple sclerosis. Recently, Haller said she had been buying marijuana from a licensed caregiver.

“It helps with my spasticity, which means my muscles don’t move like I like them to, and sleep,” Haller, 54, of St. Peters, said of the marijuana treatment.

In the Kansas City area, Brenda Dougherty said she hopes to be one of Fresh Green’s first customers when it opens this week in Lee’s Summit. The 57-year-old from Warrensburg said she believes marijuana will help relieve her chronic pain condition.

“I don’t want to take any more pills,” she said. “I know this will help. To be quite honest, I have tried it and, yes, it does help.”

The Missouri Department of Health and Human Services expects most of the state’s 192 approved dispensaries to be open by the end of the year.

“Missouri patients have always been our North Star as we work to implement the state’s medical marijuana program,” Dr. Randall Williams, department director, said in a news release. “We greatly appreciate how hard everyone has worked so that patients can begin accessing a safe and well-regulated program.”

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