Western MT medical providers assist New York hospitals during crisis

Posted at 10:06 PM, May 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 00:06:33-04

MISSOULA — Doctors and nurses from western Montana answered the call for help when New York hospitals became overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Some of them flew there to help save lives while others stayed in Montana, finding themselves on the front lines of the crisis, even though they were thousands of miles away.

There is a bank of computer screens at Missoula’s Providence St. Patrick hospital where doctors use telemedicine to offer their expertise to doctors around the country virtually.

As New York became overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, doctors in Missoula knew they could help.

“They were doing a fantastic job with the resources they have but taking care of complicated ICU patients with multiple organ systems that were failing is nuanced care and requires a lot of specialty training so they were avid for whatever guidance and advice we could give them," St. Patrick critical care specialist Dr. William Surber said.

As an anesthesiologist and critical care physician, Dr. Surber and others guided New York doctors in the battle of COVID-19 as some of those doctors didn’t have that specific expertise.

"I remember rounding with someone who was an orthopedic surgeon who stepped up and is actually managing an ICU patient," Providence telehealth medical director Dr. Hargobind Khurana said. "And these are complicated patients. These are difficult to manage in the best of scenarios."

Through the wonders of technology, doctors here could look over the exhausted shoulders of doctors there, offering their expertise, a second set of eyes—and even reassurance they were doing what’s best for their sick patients.

“With a camera and microphone and computer, I was on their electronic medical records so that I could see all the data see every patient and discuss every aspects of their care and we're able to provide up-to-date care for these complicated patients," Dr. Surber said.

Dr. Surber and the other physicians could care for these patients without being exposed to the virus themselves but were exposed to the kind of firsthand experience that will help if COVID-19 flares up here

"This gave me and the other Missoula physicians who were doing this, infinitely more experience at managing these patients first-hand so I think if we do end up seeing a higher volume of COVID-19 patients in Missoula, that puts us in better position to take really good care of them here," Dr. Surber said.

With a more manageable patient load in New York for now, Dr. Surber and others are able to take a break from those virtual overnight shifts in New York but are ready to help with guidance and advice wherever they're needed.