KU Cares: Jayhawks on the Front Lines - Dr. Holly Gault

Dr. Holly Gault was a four-year letterwinner for the Kansas soccer team from 2003-06 and was a key contributor in helping the Jayhawks to back-to-back 18 wins seasons and a pair of NCAA Tournament berths. Her heroics on the pitch earned her All-Big 12 First Team status, a spot on the Big 12’s 10th Anniversary Team and First Team All-America honors. After her days with KU soccer came to an end, Gault graduated from KU with an undergraduate degree in human biology in 2007 before completing her medical degree from KU Medical Center in 2013. Gault finished her residency at Research Medical Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2016 and moved directly to Pittsburg, Kansas, where she currently works as a family practice obstetrician who works in both inpatient and outpatient medicine.

Q: Can you put into words what these last few weeks have been like for you?
“I have not experienced anything like this. I mean the closest thing that I’ve seen to this was when I did a six-week rotation in South Africa. I did O.B. (Obstetrics) there and you have H.I.V. and tuberculosis but that is nothing like what we’re going through now.”

Q: What’s the effect been in Pittsburg? Even though it’s a smaller community, are you seeing cases of COVID-19?
“We have started seeing more and more cases here. We just recently had our first death (last) week, a patient who came through the E.R. I was not involved in that patient’s care, but she was a patient of our clinic. That has really affected the community down here. Everyone is super on edge and anxious. We’ve now changed a lot of what we are doing at the hospital and what we are doing at the clinic and I’ve been involved with that obviously.”

Q: What are some of the biggest changes you have witnessed at your clinic or at the hospital?
“Some of the changes that we’ve had to make include having to screen everyone in the clinic outside our doors – doing temperature checks and symptom questions. We’ve limited most adult patients. We’re only allowing the patient themselves into the clinic. For my patient population – obviously I do a lot of O.B. and pediatric work – we’ll have the kid and their parent or we’ll allow the spouse of our pregnant patients come in with them. But it’s really changed our everyday routine.

In the hospital we all get screened – providers as well as patients. Just last week they announced that they were no longer allowing visitors into the hospital which definitely creates a little more emotional turmoil. They are allowing spouses for deliveries but when you are on the delivery floor you’re there to stay, you can’t leave.”

Q: With the limitations of people being asked to stay home, how have you had to adapt the kind of care you provide?
“We’re doing a lot of telemedicine now. I’d say half of my visits have been through video conferencing so we can keep people home. I have never done telemedicine. It’s very difficult. It has been an adjustment for us. Obviously, being down here, we have a lot more barriers. I’d say nearly half our patients don’t have internet at home and obviously teleconferencing requires internet. We’re trying to do what we can to keep – especially our high-risk patients – out of the clinic. We have ramped up our home delivery for medications. We’re trying to limit people having to get out and delivering as much of the medication as we can to people’s houses that we can. So there have been a lot of adjustments.”

Q: Have you personally seen or been affected by COVID-19?
“I’m going to be on hospital call this next week and I know it’s going to be a lot different seeing it face-to-face. I’ve had several people of interest in my clinic, but none of my patients have tested positive. However, my neighbor right next door is positive, so it’s definitely still hitting close to home.”

Q: What does a typical day look like for you right now?
“The hours that I’m doing patient care haven’t really changed. I’m not seeing as many patients in a day. My hours on the CDC website, trying to keep up with all the numbers, have drastically increased. I’m probably only getting four hours of sleep.”

Q: What has this been like trying to treat pregnant and new parents through the pandemic?
“I have a ton of patients who are pregnant and I actually have quite a few who are due in the next 6-8 weeks. They’re anxious. They’re stressed out. It’s a fine line: You want to worry them enough that they take the recommendations seriously, but you’re also dealing with brand new moms and dads who are already stressed about bringing a new baby home. So, I’ve been trying to encourage them to use FaceTime and do everything they can to stay healthy. It’s a transition. I feel like every day there are new recommendations that are adjusting how we have to think and how we have to do things.”

Q: How is the morale among you and your coworkers?
“We have really good comradery in our clinic. The people I work with, we have a very strong team dynamic and we all understand that we’re in it as a team. We’re trying to be there to support everyone. In my role as a provider, I’ve just been trying to make sure everyone else is okay. I have my three dogs, I come home, we hang out, we go on walks and do as much outside as we can. That’s sort of my routine.”

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Q: This has to be such a stressful time for doctors and nurses, are there any support systems being set up to help those on the front lines handle the anxiety and the long hours that have come with this pandemic?
“(There is) Something that we did this week that I really like. We have a behavioral health side, several behavioral health providers who are within our organization and they have actually opened a 1-800 number for our community and for medical providers. You don’t even have to be a part of our clinic. We don’t know how this is going to impact everyone from a mental health aspect, especially the medical professionals moving forward. It is a grieving process, especially the people on the front lines.”

Q: What has been the most difficult aspect of all of this for you?
“I want to be more on the front lines and be more involved, but the big thing that I think every day is ‘I know I signed up for this.’ We employ a lot of assistants who maybe didn’t go to medical school or nursing school and we want to make sure that they’re okay because they really haven’t ever seen or studied anything like this before and they probably never thought that they’d be in this situation ever in their lives. But as a physician or nurse, you expect at some point you’re going to be called upon to combat some sort of emergency. We have a lot of new graduates and new nurses, so just making sure they’re doing okay though all of this is something I’ve tried to do. Just providing that support for my colleagues.”

Q: What are some of the positives you are seeing out of all this?
“Our community has been hugely supportive for our community health center as a whole. Every day our clinic manager will send an email that has tons of ‘thank you’ letters. All the kids are at home right now but they’re sending cards and letters that thank us for what we’re doing. I don’t know who did it, but at the hospital someone put up a big sign that says ‘Heroes Are Working Here.’ Pittsburg University donated a bunch of N95 masks and gloves. So I feel like we’ve had really good outreach from our community to make sure that we have what we need and we stay safe.”

Q: What are some ways that everyone stuck at home can help medical professionals and people working on the front lines of this pandemic?
“The biggest thing people can do is stay home. Listen to the governors, listen to the health professionals. Follow the social distancing recommendations. That will be the biggest thing to help us so that we don’t get a huge spike in cases. We’ve seen those spikes in the communities that haven’t been as strict and how detrimental that has been to the hospital systems. The other thing is, just remember your friends, your family and your loved ones. One of my best friends called me the other day and told me to check my email. She had sent me a $25 gift card to Starbucks. Even if it’s not financial or a gift, just check in on them and make sure they’re okay. It is stressful. We don’t know what impact this is going to have on providers and nurses down the line. Just knowing that people have your back, thinking about you and praying for you. I think that’s the biggest thing you can do for your healthcare professionals.”