Preparing for a surge: Local doctor heads to the frontline

Dr. Amber Reiss-Holt

By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer
“There’s a lot you can learn by reading and by talking to other physicians, but there’s nothing that takes the place of actually treating a patient with the disease,” Dr. Amber Reiss-Holt said last week before traveling to California to work on the frontline of the pandemic in San Diego.
Reiss-Holt, co-owner of Pagosa Medical Group, left Sunday to work with patients and gain firsthand knowledge in the fight against COVID-19 that can, if needed, be applied in this area.
Reiss-Holt is board certified in critical care, emergency medicine and general surgery, explaining, “Critical care has always been my passion, and that’s taking care of very sick people in the intensive care unit.”
Years ago, she explained, she connected with a group of critical care physicians out of California, where she is also licensed.
In 2015, she took a part-time regular job with the group, at that time working for a week out of each month in San Diego.
That was put on hold with the birth of her second child, but she kept in touch with those colleagues with the thought of going back to work with them.
“They’re an excellent group of physicians,’’ she said.
COVID-19 is providing that opportunity in the form of helping patients, doctors and, ultimately, Archuleta County.
“There’s lots of jobs out there right now, especially with this COVID thing, lots of need for intensivists because of all the patients who are ending up on a ventilator. But I really wanted to see if I could help out with my familiar group of intensivists, so reached out to them a couple of weeks ago and they were very excited to have any offer of help,” she said.
Reiss-Holt explained on April 10 that the area she aims to help is probably in the beginning of its surge, with the hospital having 12 to 15 COVID-positive patients, though that number was expected to rise.
She noted the hospital she’s working at is “fairly well-equipped as far as hospitals go in terms of ventilators and negative-pressure rooms and the PPE, all these things that you’ve been hearing about.”
Reiss-Holt plans to spend up to two weeks in California, noting that if a crisis happens locally, she will return to help provide care if possible.
“I want to get some experience treating COVID patients firsthand and then be able to bring back that knowledge to this area. This is my home and my community, and we haven’t surged yet here at all,” Reiss-Holt said of her trip, adding, “So, I’d like to have all the clinical knowledge that I can firsthand.”
Part of the challenge even with bigger hospitals, she noted, is that if one doctor tests positive for COVID-19, that doctor is out for at least two weeks, which is part of the reason she’s going to help.
“This is a group of seven full-time intensivists,” she said. “If you lose one, it really puts a damper on the schedule of everybody else, so it’s almost like everybody’s sort of needing a bench to go to or a substitute, so I’m happy to help, but it also will help me be a better doctor for these types of patients and bring that knowledge back here.”
Reiss-Holt noted she’ll stay in a hotel in California, then will quarantine for two weeks away from her family after returning home.


Links to COVID-19 coverage


This story was posted on April 16, 2020.