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Family Physicians During A Pandemic: Caring For Patients Alongside COVID-19

A doctor takes a patient's blood pressure. (Getty Images)
A doctor takes a patient's blood pressure. (Getty Images)
This article is more than 3 years old.

The full range of health concerns did not disappear when the coronavirus showed up. Illnesses, chronic conditions, injuries, well-baby visits and other needs persist.

WBUR's Sharon Brody spoke with Dr. Bonnie Engelbart, a family medicine physician with the Cambridge Health Alliance, working at a health care center in Revere.

Interview Highlights

On the challenge of taking care of patients alongside COVID-19: 

In the mornings, we are seeing just babies for their vaccines. One of the things that's been recognized is that if we don't vaccinate our babies, we may have another public health crisis. And so we've been actively outreaching to babies, bringing them in, and seeing them in the mornings to do their exams and update their vaccines. Then in a separate side of the clinic, in the afternoons, we're seeing adult patients who require in-person visits.

On the stress that comes with health issues in vulnerable communities:

You know, at baseline, we have lots of patients that struggle with finances and are food-insecure or their housing is insecure. And those problems have been exacerbated because a lot of people are out of work ... We're always trying to help people with those issues, but patients are expressing much greater need.

The other way that it's manifesting itself is that we're just getting lots of phone calls from patients that are having really significant anxiety. They're calling us and are in quite a bit of emotional distress.

I had one patient who was quite distressed and just completely in a panic that she might die. And she was not sick, but she was terrified of COVID, and just providing some education on the phone about how to keep yourself safe and how to limit her risk of exposure to the virus was reassuring to her ... Also just speaking to a familiar voice, having a chance to get her fears out, and just be honest about how she was feeling I think was pretty reassuring.

On what gives Engelbart hope and what she thinks gives patients hope:

Talking to some of the families that I take care of — especially families where there are multiple generations — it is inspiring to hear how they are caring for one another ... [They're] making sure that their sicker family members or more elderly family members have the food that they need [and] have the care that they need without having to go out.

I think I'm generally inspired and feel hopeful when I talk to patients who actually understand social distancing and are following those recommendations.

I do feel pretty hopeful about efforts in the community to support some of our most vulnerable. A lot of our patients are fairly religious and put a lot of hope and faith in God. And I think that they frequently express that is what carries them through this time.

This segment aired on May 2, 2020.


Sharon Brody News Anchor
Sharon Brody is the voice of WBUR's weekend mornings. On Saturdays and Sundays, she anchors the news for Weekend Edition and other popular programs.


Derek J. Anderson Digital Producer
Derek J. Anderson is a digital producer for WBUR.



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