How has the COVID-19 outbreak impacted La Familia Medical Center?

"Completely and totally," Chief Medical Director Wendy Johnson says. An MD and MPH, Johnson says the clinic isn't doing much testing nor treatment of patients with the coronavirus. What doctors, nurses and other providers are doing is treating their 17,000 patients who live with other diseases: diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, to name a few.

"Unfortunately, all the other diseases didn't get the memo they need to stop," Johnson says. La Familia's clinics provide a myriad of services: medical, dental and behavioral, as well as programs for the city's homeless. The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted all aspects of the clinics' work.

"Our role as primary care providers to patients in Santa Fe…and some of the most vulnerable patients in Santa Fe, is to provide excellent medical care in a very safe way and keep them out of the hospitals for all those other things so the hospitals can really focus on diagnosing and treating the serious COVID cases," she says.

In response to the current crisis, the clinic has been refining many of its policies and procedures. Staff are screened for symptoms and temperatures at the beginning of the day. Staff who travel can't work for 14 days upon return (Johnson herself self-isolated for 14 days upon returning from Seattle). La Familia has created a separate space to see patients with respiratory illness "and [is] doing triage before they even put get in the buildings so we can make sure those patients are masked and make sure all the providers seeing those patients also have all the PPE [personal protective equipment]."

For now, the clinic has sufficient personal protective equipment [PPE]. "We're really trying to just stave off any kind of crisis that we might have because everything is on back order and we can't get any new orders," she says. "Like everybody else, we're scavenging from different places…we're trying to be very proactive."

La Familia has been referring patients for testing to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, as well as Presbyterian, perhaps 20 or 30. Many patients are worried and many have questions.

"People are worried about their vulnerable family members or themselves if they're elderly or they have chronic disease," Johnson says. Some of the questions highlight the complexity of the COVID-19 social isolation protocol. For example, some of La Familia's healthcare workers "depend on their parents for childcare; that's a very difficult spot to be in. 'Should my kids be going to my parents?'"

One staff member, Johnson says, decided to "make the choice of, 'I'm just going to sequester my kids and my parents and I'm not going to see my kids at all.' A lot of people are taking some very extreme decisions so they can serve the community," she adds.

To help address and answer community questions, Johnson kicked off a live COVID-19 discussion last Sunday on Facebook, and plans to continue doing so at 7 pm on Sundays. In her first address, Johnson laid out the general situation in New Mexico, praising the strict guidelines set in place by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, and answering questions.

Johnson tells SFR she plans to spend some time on March 29 discussing masks and the proper way to use them.

The clinic itself has a call out for donations of cloth face masks and other supplies. "My feeling is cloth masks aren't as good as surgical masks," Johnson says, but notes that La Familia would prefer folks donate N95 masks to "our colleagues at the hospitals." The cloth masks, however, "can be good for people who don't have other options, especially people who have to work in the community."

La Familia also will provide the cloth masks to its homeless patients to wear "if they're symptomatic and they can't socially isolate." She says La Familia is working on putting packages together for homeless people that include other items, such as sanitizer and bottled water for washing. Other COVID-related work that has added to the clinic's normal bustle includes ensuring its immigrant patients receive all relevant information for the outbreak in Spanish.

"Our first and foremost responsibility and what we're focused on is keeping our staff safe and keeping our patients safe and continuing to provide a safe place in the community where people can come to get the essential health care they need," she says.

La Familia also seeks donations of bleach-based cleaning products and wipes, hand sanitizers, and surgical masks, eye goggles and gowns. To coordinate any donations, contact Gloria Martinez, development director at 505.955.0302 or via email: gmmartinez@lfmctr.org.

"I think the mot important thing is to really understand—I think people are getting it more and more—your actions are not just about yourself right now," Johnson said in her initial Facebook video. "They're about the whole community, and we can only keep La Familia a safe place for people to come for their health care if people are working to keep us as health workers safe."