From the Phone Line to the Front Line

April 13, 2020

As a physician assistant with an internal medicine group at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Gwen Baer (’99) usually spends her days working directly with patients who come through her clinic. In her eight years at Emory, she has served as the principal healthcare provider for many of her patients.

With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping around the world and across the country over the past several weeks, Baer has made the transition to providing care via telehealth. Much of her time is spent working with patients who demonstrate symptoms of coronavirus or are awaiting results of tests.

“If a patient tests positive and is not sick enough to be in the hospital, we continue to assess them through telehealth conversations and determine the next steps,” Baer said. “I’ve literally sat and counted a patient’s breaths over the phone.”

Baer, who earned her degree in biology, is now moving on from telehealth to a more involved—and dangerous—role in the fight against the coronavirus.

Called to action in the hospital’s Acute Respiratory Clinic, Baer will be providing urgent primary care to patients who are COVID-19 positive. Baer said this would be considered a much riskier environment, requiring full use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Baer has already tested negative for the virus, but recognizes that her work presents risks for her husband and three daughters, ages 14, 12, and 9. She emphasized the deadly nature of COVID-19 and urged people to consider the broader picture in fighting the outbreak.

“I tell people that they’re not stuck at home, but that they’re safe at home,” she said. “So many people are not safe in their essential work. It’s a privilege to be able to be at home and not expose yourself or others to this virus.”

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