AUSTIN (KXAN) — Dr. Erica Swegler has learned to improvise while fighting COVID-19 the past few weeks.
Her staff at Beacon Family Health Care in north Austin is out of masks and down to three gowns. They’ve already had their first positive case of COVID-19 and fear there may have been more before they started testing.
“We really are concerned. We are functioning without any of the required gear,” says Swegler. “If I get ill, the practice will go under.”
Swegler says they’re wearing scrub jackets and cloth masks that they wash everyday. She tells KXAN investigator Arezow Doost that they’ve tried to order through their medical supplier, but have not heard anything.
FULL COVERAGE: KXAN.COM/CORONAVIRUS
Other family doctors reached out to KXAN also concerned about personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages. They worry because they run small practices they will be left behind when it comes to distributing the supplies.
“If we get sick, then more people would be going to the hospitals and then that may exasperate the problem,” explains Dr. Abilio Munoz, with Munoz Family Health Clinic.
He finally got N95 masks after repeated calls to different organizations.
“We also have a high exposure risk because we’re dealing with patients that we’re not sure what they have until we screen them when they come in.”
Gov. Greg Abbott explained on Tuesday that the state would be aggressive in getting medical supplies or PPE.
“The State of Texas is rapidly accelerating the purchasing and delivery of essential personal protection equipment and other supplies to aid in our COVID-19 response,” explained Abbott. “The Supply Chain Strike Force is working in concert with the Texas Division of Emergency Management to secure these vital resources and to swiftly distribute them to medical professionals, hospitals, and first responders in communities throughout the state.”
Abbott says the state will soon be receiving more than one million masks per week. The Texas Medical Association echoes Abbott’s call for personal protective equipment donations.
“Physicians and the rest of the health care team cannot be thrown into battle poorly equipped. We cannot safely test, examine, or treat our patients without protective masks, gowns, gloves, and other equipment,” says TMA President Dr. David C. Fleeger.
The association says all industries including, oil and gas, construction, auto body shops, and, dentistry and veterinary medicine must donate these supplies.
TMA tells KXAN News that about 30% of doctors make up small practices in state.
“Many physicians are ready, willing and able to care for the “worried well” and mildly ill patients in their offices, when they have the necessary equipment, thus preventing a referral to the local hospital or EMS,” explains Tom Banning with the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, which represents physicians and has heard from doctors first hand. “If we can collaborate and support our community physicians, they can then implement systems to avoid referring patients into the emergency healthcare system.”
Banning says last week it became clear that the process is not “well suited to distributing supplies to physicians in the community. The process is geared to facilities.”
Doost reached out to the state health department and the Regional Advisory Council which is distributing supplies to ask about the process, but as of deadline has not gotten a response.