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Coronavirus In Texas: Doctor's Office Furloughs Staff As Economic Disaster Hits Healthcare Workers

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - The economic disaster of COVID-19 hitting in of all places -- doctors' offices.

"It's been harder than ever," explained Dr. Guy Culpepper, with Bent Tree Family Physicians, "phone calls doubled or tripled overnight."

With offices in Dallas and Frisco, Dr. Culpepper has been fighting COVID-19, and supporting hospital-based colleagues by allowing them to concentrate on true emergencies.

"We have literally kept hundreds from going to the emergency room, for everything from a dislocated shoulder to kids with earaches, to somebody who thinks they might have COVID and aren't sure," he said.

But this same crisis has kept paying patients at home. Fewer lab tests and procedures have put the decades old practice on the brink of financial ruin.

"I have about 70 employees," said Dr. Culpepper. "The only way I could see going forward was to furlough all 70. We would literally be out of money in two weeks. And if we're out of money I can't have people working for me that I'm not going to be able to pay."

That's right -- healthcare professionals out of work... in the middle of a pandemic. Dr. Culpepper filed for a small business loan, but learned last week that the $350 billion program is already out of money.

"We filed on time, then we were told like so many people, that others got in front of you, they took the money and there's none's left."

As lawmakers consider an additional relief package, Dr. Culpepper is asking that they consider that essential businesses now, will also be essential to the nation's recovery.

"I felt like I was told by my country, 'you're an essential worker. You and all of your people. Get to work, take a risk,'" he said obviously frustrated. "I felt like if we're here and we're essential, why weren't we essential when it came time for the loan?"

Dr. Culpepper says some doctors and nurses have offered to volunteer; but, labor rules won't allow staff to work for free. Right now, he says he's keeping just a skeleton crew and paying them minimum wage in order to keep the doors open. Still, he worries about what will happen to the thousands of patients who seek out his practice for care if the federal support doesn't go far enough.

"We are praying that it's [small business loan] gonna come in... if it doesn't come in, then, I'm not sure where these 25,000 people are going to get their care. We have to be here."

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