With COVID-19 cases surging across the country, government officials are calling physicians and other healthcare workers back into hospitals to help care for patients. Healthcare facilities are reaching their capacities, and authorities project that the workforce may not be enough to provide the medical attention the patients need.
One of the first to call for reinforcements is New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. The Guardian reports that he called retired doctors to volunteer. Thousands of healthcare workers heeded the call, hoping to do their part in curbing the virus.
Answering the War Cry
After the New York mayor’s call, some 1,000 retired and private practice doctors and nurses volunteered and enlisted for the Big Apple’s medical reserve. They joined the 9,000 medical professionals in the Medical Reserve Corps.
Meanwhile, some states like Illinois cut red tape to simplify the renewal of expired licenses for doctors and nurses. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan released a COVID-19 health care order stating that inactive physicians may return to work in facilities covered by their inactive license, without having to renew that license.
All these steps are taken to ensure an easy reintroduction of the reserve force into crowding hospitals. This enables them to quickly enlist for volunteer work or search for locum tenens positions in the healthcare system.
Retirees with Compromised Immune Systems
One of the main concerns in drawing physicians from retirement is the risk of diseases. A huge number of retired doctors are older than 65, putting them in the higher-risk category of COVID-19.
The proposed solution is to keep them away from the frontlines and employ telemedicine, where healthcare providers can remotely care for their patients. This enables the patient to receive medical advice, without exposing either them or their physician to contagious diseases. This also removes some of the outpatient load from doctors in hospitals, who can focus on providing care for those who need admission. In fact, more than 6,000 mental health professionals volunteered to provide online mental health services.
Creating a New Norm for Retired Physicians
The call for retired physicians may be a precedent for establishing a system of reserve medical workforce. PBS reports that, as soon as the COVID-19 crisis is mitigated, the medical system could establish processes that allow retired professionals to return when needed. This is crucial in medical crises, where the number of cases surge and the epidemiology of the pathogen is not yet known.
David Grabowski, professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School supports the idea. According to him, the country should formalize a source of physicians and nurses that can be easily activated during medical crises. Moreover, this could also enable retired physicians to return for personal reasons, whether it’s to apply the knowledge they acquired during their younger years or help curb small outbreaks in their communities.
COVID-19 continues to change the face of healthcare systems across the world. In the US, it has drawn thousands of healthcare workers out of retirement to reinforce an overloaded workforce. With governments easing license renewals and scrambling to create a reserve force, retirees might see new work norms once the crisis abates.