Physician assistants called to COVID-19 front lines

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NEW YORK — As hospitals have adapted to fight the demand from patients with the coronavirus, many have leaned on physician assistants to help meet the burden.

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo stopped elective surgeries in New York State, many of the PAs who normally operate in the field were redeployed to fight COVID-19

“We’re able to really move people to the areas of need and high volume where we were seeing a lot of COVID census patients in the hospital,” said Jason McGrade. McGrade is the Assistant Vice President of PA services at Northwell Health and a physician assistant. Throughout its system, Northwell depends on about 1,200 PAs.

During this pandemic, he says they have been critical to the operations as they worked with doctors, nurses and others in the hospitals.

“In many instances the PAs with the critical care backgrounds, emergency medicine backgrounds are really the team leader,” McGrade added.

“Because of the flexibility of our training in general medicine, many of those PAs in health systems like Northwell were able to be redeployed to work either in emergency departments, as hospitalists, in ICU’s where a great number of these COVID patients ended up, as well as in testing sites that were stood up to support this pandemic,” said Maureen Regan, President of the New York State Society of Physician Assistants.

Even outside the walls of the hospitals, PAs have risen to the occasion for many patients in need of critical care.

Mordechai Sacks is a primary care PA who practices just north of New Rochelle where the virus originated in New York. In addition to his hours of telemedicine each day, Sacks shifted to make house calls when many of his patients were turned away from the hospitals. People he says would have been admitted if not for the overwhelming demand on our healthcare system.

“I’m all geared up in my PPE, looking like a space invader, terrifying to the children for sure,” Sacks said. “And then coming home to my kids and trying to go nowhere near them as I doth this gear hoping not to bring anything into my home.”

But like all of the medical providers during this pandemic, Sacks presses on each day as he focuses on the silver linings.

“I’m surviving.The spectrum of the things that I see are pretty awful on a regular basis and I’m continuously reminding myself that it could be so much worse.”

In other words, he says the effort is working.

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