Dr. Julie Elder has been leading our medical teams for many years now and played a critical role in defining our response to COVID-19. We asked her to share her reflections on her experiences at GraceMEd and with the pandemic itself.
You’ve been with GraceMed through a lot of growth years. What has been the greatest challenge during those years?
Growth can be a challenge anywhere and in any type of medical practice. We’ve worked really hard to try and find the right people to be a part of the GraceMed team. IT’s always important and sometimes challenging to find people who have a heart for serving the underserved and want to pursue community health as a career, not just a stepping stone into something else.
What are the ways in which practicing in a community health setting differs from private practice?
FQHC is quite different than practicing in private practice. We have to abide by the rules and regulations set forth by HRSA, so there are restrictions as to what we can or cannot do. I find that’s the biggest adjustment for anyone who’s been in the private sector. Even though we may be restricted in some areas, we have many wonderful programs available to help patients in need – many that the private sector doesn’t offer.
What were the reasons you wanted to be a part of GraceMed?
I always wanted to be part of a medical ministry and be able to help folks in need. We see a great variety of patients here, and they’re so appreciative of the care they receive. I’m always humbled by that. They are thankful even when I don’t feel like I could help them much for whatever reason.
In what ways has this novel virus also been a novel experience for you?
I’ve never seen anything like this in my 20-plus years in medicine. It’s been fascinating to see how the medical community went from knowing essentially nothing about this virus to testing a vaccine three months later. It’s also been incredible to see how politics and social media have influenced the country’s perception of a very serious virus. I’ve never seen a time in medicine where the internet has provided more “facts” than scientists and physicians.
Was there a critical issue that you had to deal with more than any other in gearing up to respond to the virus?
The national lack of PPE was a huge challenge for us. We were fortunate to have 16 clinics around the state and could pull PPE from each one. We then pooled our resources together and have been able to use it wisely. The testing drive-thru in Wichita also helped us limit the daily use of PPE.
What were some of the challenges you’ve dealt with since testing started?
There was a huge delay in getting test results back initially, and that was tough for all of us. That has since resolved. Now we are working on gearing up for the possible combo of influenza and COVID this fall. We are trying to gather PPE to get us through the time frame, but so are other people. So, PPE still isn’t readily available.
You’ve had to tell more than a few people they have the virus. Has that been difficult?
Yes – it’s always unnerving telling someone a diagnosis that has such uncertain outcomes. A few patients we have tested looked very sick, and we never know how they will do at home because many of these patients come from other clinics or follow up with other physicians. so we don’t always know how they do long-term. I’m used to continuity with my patients, so it’s been a significant change for me.
What impact do you think the pandemic will have on the importance we place on serving the underserved?
I hope it will allow us to further identify and correct disparities in healthcare. Some data suggests that African Americans and Latinos have a higher incidence of COVID. Mortality rates are also higher in African Americans. Community health centers like GraceMed are here to take care of everyone. So we need to figure out why these disparities exist and do everything we can to correct them. I hope that the COVID data will lead to further research that can help identify and correct underlying issues for our patients across the board.
This post originated in our State of Grace quarterly news magazine. If you would like to receive the magazine, please visit this link and give us your information. Thanks!