Retired doctor returns to COVID frontlines: ‘It’s very real’

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A retired Chicago doctor has returned to the frontlines. And the hospital he worked at for 28 years is almost unrecognizable.

Two weeks ago, Dr Scott Altman, a retired emergency medicine physician spoke to WGN News in front of his home. He talked about his desire to help during the COVID-19 crisis and answering the call of Governor JB Pritzker.

But before he got a call from the state, he reached out to his former employer and they took him up on his offer.

“I’m working down at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn on their strike team within their command center,” he said. “Helping to process admissions, approving the testing for coronavirus, because testing is so limited and helping manage patient flow.”

So far, he’s completed two 12-hour shifts, no overnights. But the hospital he retired from and returned to this week is not the same.

“It’s a completely different place,” he said. “On the one hand it’s so nice to go back and see all my old friends who I haven’t seen for quite a while. It’s really joyful to regroup with my coworkers who I worked with for decades. On the other hand the circumstances are so trying.”

The areas of the hospital that have been dedicated for COVID are packed. The hospital is working on being able to put two patients in rooms that were designed as single- bed rooms, including in the intensive care unit. It’s just not something anybody would have thought possible.

Altman is adapting to the new culture and said he’ll stay to the end.

“It makes me feel like I have a place and I’m contributing. I have something I can offer that helps out,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s really sad. When I’m at home on lockdown or go for an occasional walk in the park it’s all invisible. You read about it in the newspaper or see it on TV, but you walk in hospital and it’s very real.”

As long as they need me and want to utilize my services, I’ll try to help out.

Earlier this week along that same sidewalk in front of his house, neighbors set out candles as a sign of support for all healthcare workers.

But for Altman, it was personal.

“I feel like I’m contributing in my small way to help out just as grocery store clerks and food delivery guys,” he said. “So it’s nice to feel like I’m doing something to help other than quarantining myself in the house.”

If you’d like to join in the efforts to help in the COVID-19 crisis, the portal for retirees to apply is online at, there are tabs for physician license reinstatement and out of state temporary practice permits.

The IDPFR website for retired healthcare worker signup is only for those with expired state licenses to get a new temporary license. 

The website to signup with a valid or current license is: IllinoisHelps.

Applications are available online at IDFPR’s website:

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