Earlier this year, Collier County Medical Society launched the “CCMS Physicians Care” campaign. The campaign celebrates the heart of our physicians and highlights the years of training, technical proficiencies, and continuing education to maintain a physician’s license.

It also it takes courage and compassion for physicians to build personal relationships with their patients through the years – watching new life come into the world, easing the pain and burden of those with chronic illness, and continuing the trust with their families. The emotional effort pays off though. Multiple studies have shown that patients who have a regular doctor, have better overall health, and even have a lower rate of mortality.

During this Coronavirus crisis, those relationships have been stressed in many ways. But, CCMS physicians have risen to the challenge, protecting the patients and families they serve.

COVID-19 brought challenges at the office

The ripple effect of this pandemic has been felt through all CCMS members. While the limited availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) dominated the headlines, many offices have faced additional challenges to protect their patients, their staff, and themselves.

Because of CDC recommendations, many community physicians had to limit the number of patients that could be seen. With patients that had multiple, chronic conditions, virtually all physicians continued to care for the health of the community. For some specialists though, travel restrictions added barrier to treatment. Dr. Stephen D’Amato described patients from the European Union forced to cancel their pain management treatments at CALMARx PAIN RELIEF. Members surveyed reported as many as 500 non-essential, elective procedures canceled as a result of the executive order prohibiting these procedures.

When patients were able to keep appointments, additional health screenings and safety procedures meant increased expenses with fewer dollars coming in to cover those costs. In a survey of our membership, financial losses because of canceled visits and elective procedures over the first six weeks of the pandemic were estimated from a $5,000 to well over $800,000. Promises of relief through the CARES Act, PPP Paycheck, and Small Business Administration loans have added yielded minimal results.

The “new normal” that the pandemic brought to our country has also significantly increased the utilization of telemedicine. Though helpful in preventing the spread of COVID-19, virtual doctor visits still lack the personal attention and diagnostic routine we have become accustomed to. Some members are not seeing any patients in person. For example, because he had common co-morbidities, Dr. Stephen D’Amato was forced to isolate himself and only see patients virtually.

The personal sacrifice

While many doctors emotionally bring their work home with them, the pandemic highlighted the possibility of literally bringing COVID-19 home to families in the form of sickness or transmission. The heightened awareness was felt by physicians, nurses, medical assistants, and administrative personnel alike.

Living with an increased risk of transmission led to medical professionals quarantining themselves. Unfortunately, around the country, some parents even had their parental custody challenged – for being on the front lines.

Michael Slater, Jr. D.O., a resident physician at NCH, recognizes the impact of the pandemic on hospital physicians. “As medical professionals, we are all working as diligently as usual, but there is a heightened mental and physical fatigue as a result of the current situation.” Slater notes that the requirement for social distancing has increased the emotional toll on physicians who are unable to connect with their family members and receive the support that they need. “Fortunately, organizations like the Collier County Medical Society, NCH Healthcare, and the greater Naples community have been extremely generous to the local medical professionals and first-line responders, providing essential commodities, food, and support services,” Slater says.

The front lines of the pandemic

Many community residents think of the emergency room as the “front line” of the pandemic. However, during a global pandemic, there are multiple front lines. Our physicians have answered the call of duty in many ways.

With precaution measures heightened, all nurses and medical assistants are on the front lines. They are the ones pre-screening patients, distributing masks, and taking the initial impact of patient fears and anxieties as they enter the office.

Efforts to protect patients paid off though. In one letter to Radiology Regional, the patient expressed how impressed she was with the precautionary steps taken and acknowledged the professionalism displayed by their staff.

Some of our local medical professionals were called to duty in a different way. Emily Snyder, a nurse practitioner at Korunda Medical Institute, had her Army Reserve unit activated. For two months of this crisis, she was stationed at the University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, assisting clinical staff in a coronavirus hotspot.

Moreover, CCMS board members have advocated for the health of the community in front of the Collier County Board of Commissioners by speaking in favor of science-based measures that would help slow the spread of COVID-19. CCMS Board Members and the CCMS COVID-19 Task Force have been working to provide local physicians with the tools and resources they need to protect themselves, their patients, and keep their businesses up and running.

Giving back in unique ways

There are many ways to protect the health of a community. In addition to providing direct care for their patients, physicians such as Dr. Joseph Magnant and his staff at Vein Specialists sought to help the families residing at the Ronald McDonald House of SWFL.

Safety measures put into place because of the pandemic prevented the families at the Ronald McDonald House from cooking their own meals, leaving families living with another health crisis struggling with the increased costs of buying take-out meals. The team at Vein Specialists launched a GoFundMe page to ease the costs for families in need.

Dr. Magnant even applied his surgical skills to sew scrub hats and rebuffs from recycled t-shirts. While the items are offered to the community for free, donations are gratefully accepted in support of the Ronald McDonald House of SWFL.

Continuing the health of the community

Through the fear and panic that COVID-19 has brought to the medical community, one of the greatest ongoing needs that has not been forgotten is the patient. In Southwest Florida, community physicians ensured that those at greatest risk during this pandemic still had access to the ongoing care they needed.

From patients with chronic heart conditions, to diabetes, skin cancer, and pain management, staying home simply was not an option. We applaud the doctors who work quietly and diligently to communicate with their patients and ensure they came to the office, despite their fears.

CCMS is with you through the storm

The social, emotional, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak will certainly last months and potentially years. During a crisis, protecting mental health is an important issue. We encourage our neighbors to see support to address their behavioral well-being. Physicians too, are encouraged to seek support for themselves in order to continue to care for our community. Members of CCMS have access to the physician wellness program, which was extended during this pandemic to non-member physicians and the physician spouses of the CCMS Alliance.

We will continue providing COVID-19 resources and information to our members and the community. We ask everyone to take CDC-recommended precautions to decrease the spread of the virus and protect our most vulnerable patients, including physical distancing, mask-wearing while indoors, staying home while ill, and hand washing.

Thank you to all of the many businesses and individuals who are following the CDC guidelines, and to those who have donated food, supplies, and services to our healthcare workers and first responders during this pandemic. We are grateful for your support!