CHICAGO — Determining who is at greatest need for medical care is a decision made every day in hospital emergency rooms around the country, but the way doctors arrive at that choice may change in a pandemic.
In Italy, instead of first tending to the sickest patients, doctors said they were forced to treat the ones they knew they could save. They rationed ventilators to those for whom they would do the most good. It’s like a mash unit in war. And now as we wage the war on COVID-19, officials are calling on those who were on the front lines to return to duty.
Watching from the sidelines, retired emergency medicine physician Dr. Scott Altman is ready to jump into action.
“There’s a certain amount of an adrenaline junkie in me, that’s what drew me to emergency medicine, and when there is a call to action it’s hard to resist that,” he said.
Altman served as an emergency medicine physician at Advocate Christ Hospital in south suburban Oak Lawn for 28 years before retiring in 2018. Now, from the sidewalk outside his home, he says he’s ready for another round.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how I can contribute since January when this all started,” he said. “It was very clear we were going to need to respond quickly and forcefully.”
He’s among the population Gov. JB Pritzker has called on for help — asking retired healthcare workers to re-enter the work force to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in ways big and small.
“Even if we are just given telemedicine scripts, we can help follow that and help manage patient questions and concerns,” Altman said. “The worried well is overwhelming system if we can remove those from the frontline team so they can focus on the truly ill that’s a great role for retired doctors to play and retired nurses.”
From telemedicine consults to helping prepare makeshift medical facilities, if needed — critical roles that wouldn’t put retired physicians at risk.
“There’s a number of different ways retired doctors can contribute clinically. clearly it’s a little intimidating because we are in higher risk group so doing that safely,” he said. “On the other hand there is an enormous need and how can we healthcare workers who are nurturers by nature how can we not step in and help?”
In the meantime, he’s been playing an equally important role in his own community.
“There’s a role that I’ve been playing with my friends and family kind of calming fears and fielding phone calls about what is really going on what do you really need to do because there is so much information out there, it’s overwhelming, and trying to distill it down to here are the four or five things you need to do to keep your family safe. So I spend a lot of time on the phone and internet,” Altman said.
The portal for retirees opened this morning according to the governor. Altman is now registered and awaiting his assignment. Those who would like to register can visit idfpr.com
Applications are available online at IDFPR’s website: