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Atlanta's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Atlanta, Georgia | 11alive.com

‘Boots on the ground without weapons’: Doctor’s office unable to get protective gear or tests

A cry for help from physicians, who say they will have to start laying off workers if the government doesn’t get them protective equipment and financial aid – fast.

ATLANTA — Piedmont Internal Medicine wants to stay open, but it’s a juggling act figuring out how to do it amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“It’s heartbreaking and it’s frustrating that in the middle of a pandemic, we have physician’s offices having to close because of lack of resources,” said CEO Kelly Ladd.

There are instructions plastered on the front door of their office in Sandy Springs begging people with a fever to go home and call. Ladd says her practice is using telemedicine to help those with COVID-like symptoms.

For those with chronic illnesses or other medical matters, the office lobby has fewer chairs so they can space them further apart. There’s a sign on the floor that tells people where to wait until called. Even the staff has distanced their work spaces.

Credit: WXIA

So far, it’s working. Ladd says none of the patients that have come into the office or any staff members have tested positive to date.

But to keep it up, they need basics like, hand sanitizer, disinfecting products, and masks. She’s used her own Facebook page to make a public plea for donations, not just to her office, but to any primary care provider.

“I’m watching the news and I’m seeing our officials say call your doctor, call your doctor. You can get tests, tests are coming, PPE is coming,” said Ladd. “But we’re standing here like that’s great, but where is it?”

When 11Alive first interviewed Ladd in mid-March, she was concerned, but calm. Today, she’s mad.

RELATED: 'Patience, understanding, collaboration': Supplies, humanity go a long way for healthcare workers

Each person in her office has one N95 mask and a hand sewn cover. At the end of each day, they take the cover home to wash, in hopes the N95 will last longer.

She’s reached out to state and national lawmakers about the “huge disconnect” between the government’s advice and the supplies they’re passing out. She’s received formatted letters and sympathy, but no additional supplies.

Credit: WXIA

“We have not heard anything. It’s just been really frustrating not to get even a response from politicians," Ladd said.

Just as frustrating is the lack of testing available. Even when they refer a patient doctors feel should be tested, Ladd said patients are sometimes being turned away.

“We will call the hotlines that we’re told to call and no one answers the phone. Or we’re told the patient isn’t sick enough. Or this testing site has run out of their daily allotment for testing," she explained.

Even patients who don’t have COVID-19 are getting caught in the crossfire. Ladd recounts a young patient that needed an MRI. The facility wouldn’t run the procedure without a negative COVID test, but since she didn’t have the right symptoms, she couldn’t get one. Ladd says the girl was forced to go to the emergency room, the very place primary care physicians are trying to alleviate pressure from. 

Ladd says there’s another concern brewing - money. Ladd’s still studying the latest stimulus package passed to see if it will help medical professionals struggling financially.

Credit: WXIA

She says telemedicine visits are often reimbursed at a lower rate, even though right now they are medically necessary to slow the spread of the virus. She wants assurances insurance providers will reimburse telemedicine visits at the same rate as one in the office.

She says they also need financial assistance to keep afloat, while COVID-19 concerns keep other patients away.

Coronavirus Links: 

Pandemic profit: Mask sellers cash in during coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus live updates: Trump signs $2.2 trillion stimulus bill, issues Defense Production Act for GM ventilators

County-by-county guide to shelter-in-place orders and curfews in metro Atlanta

Coronavirus in Georgia: 2,130 confirmed cases, 65 deaths

Tracking COVID-19: Georgia Coronavirus Interactive map

How to make sure you actually get your coronavirus stimulus check

Will you get a stimulus check if you receive Social Security or disability, or didn’t file a tax return?