April 13, 2020 01:14 pm David Mitchell – Mary Krebs, M.D., isn't sure what all the fuss is about. She was just doing her job.
"I think most family physicians in my situation would have done the same," said Krebs, a solo family physician at a federally qualified health center in Lebanon, Ohio. "We make sure to take care of patients. They're scared. They need our help, and that's our job."
Krebs' job on a recent weekend was to take telemedicine calls, along with about two dozen other physicians and nurse practitioners in her community health center's organization. After a fairly busy Friday night, things intensified when she took about 70 calls on Saturday and 60 more on Sunday. In all, she handled more than 150 patient calls in three days.
"That was my worst call since residency," said Krebs, who completed her training at Miami Valley Hospital's Family Practice Residency in Dayton in 2007. "I've never had anything close to that. The phone just kept ringing. Everyone who gets upper respiratory symptoms is concerned. We're trying to keep people at home and not send them to the ER unless they really need to go."
What those patients who were worried about the spread of SARS-CoV-2 didn't know was that Krebs had already diagnosed herself with COVID-19.
Soon the whole nation would know what she endured.
In March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the $2 trillion relief bill that included funding for community health centers. Around the same time, the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers pitched a story about Krebs to The Wall Street Journal, and the newspaper chronicled how she worked from home during that chaotic weekend in mid-March with a 101-degree fever, cough, fatigue, body aches and mild shortness of breath. Since then, Krebs has been contacted by ABC, CNN, MSNBC, NBC and others.
"It's been overwhelming," she said. "It's nuts. I'm not a big fan of doing interviews, but I think a lot of people -- administrators, government, patients -- don't realize all the things family physicians do. It's important to get this story out. All these folks should know what we do, especially the people who make policy and pass laws to protect us and patients."
There have been multiple news accounts of health care workers being fired or threatened with termination for speaking publicly about issues such as lack of personal protective equipment during the pandemic. But Krebs said physicians and others should continue to share their stories.
"I don't know what the answer is, but I want to be part of it," she said. "People need to know what family physicians do and how important we are."
Krebs and her husband, family physician Donald Gronbeck, M.D., have both recovered from COVID-19 and are back at work after staying home on their farm in rural Xenia, Ohio -- along with four dogs, 21 sheep and hundreds of chickens and ducks -- for two weeks.
Krebs will put her rural health expertise to good use outside her clinic next month during the AAFP's Rural Health Livestream, which is scheduled for May 14-16. As the course chair, Krebs collaborated on the development of the course, including participating in faculty selection and curriculum creation.
She said the three-day course, which is approved for up to 18 AAFP Prescribed credits, is designed to help members implement the latest evidence-based guidelines on a range of topics pertinent to rural practice and to help rural physicians manage more patient needs without referrals.
"Rural patients can't always go two hours away to see a cardiologist or orthopedist," said Krebs, who also is chair of the Academy's Commission on Quality and Practice. "We have to be able to do more for patients."
The livestream course will cover topics that include management of hepatitis C disease, autoimmune disorders, insulin pumps, pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV infection, chronic pain, obesity, wound care, care of cancer survivors, mental health, substance abuse and maternity care.
"I'm really excited," Krebs said. "We have great topics. It's designed for rural, but you don't have to be rural."
At a time when most live medical conferences are being canceled because of the pandemic, Krebs said she also hopes the virtual conference will give members a chance to connect with colleagues who share common interests. Physicians who register by April 30 save up to $220.
"We started planning this a long time ago," Krebs said. "It worked out well, given the situation."