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.
“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.
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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.