Drive-thru Clinic: Medicine and Ministry Collide

"Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season" 2 Timothy 4:2

As the global community has been impacted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the island of Guam has not escaped its reach. In mid-March, the island entered a phase of “shelter in place” as the governor declared a Public Health Emergency after receiving our first positive case. It was at that time that the Guam Seventh-day Adventist Clinic mobilized its own strategic operation in assisting the island medical community.

Under the guidance of CEO Victor Shepherd, Medical Director Dr. Michael Robinson, and the medical staff, the clinic paved a novel pathway of its own to better meet the needs of the community during these unprecedented times. In a matter of days, an outdoor clinic was erected on site to serve sick patients who exhibited COVID-related symptoms. Thanks to the organization and quick skill of the maintenance and IT staff, canopies were built, technology installed, and a full medical team equipped to provide uninterrupted patient care.

Utilizing the outdoor setup, patients are able to drive up and receive assessment and treatment from the convenience of their own vehicles while keeping the indoor clinic reserved for non-COVID-related patients. This adjustment in the way we serve our patients set a precedent on island with how other medical facilities offered care, including the public hospital, Guam Memorial Hospital. Based on the foresight and successful implementation of the outdoor clinic, GMH followed suit in how they triaged Emergency Room patients and Public Health used “SDA” – as the clinic is known colloquially around the island – as a template with how they would handle mass testing in the villages. By utilizing the outdoor setting, possible transmission of viruses, specifically COVID, is limited because of the natural open ventilation. Furthermore, virus infectivity is dramatically decreased due to the heat and humidity which creates an unlikely environment for virus to thrive. “I believe we have been able to build confidence in well patients who are seen inside the clinic that they won’t be unnecessarily exposed,” says Dr. Julie Bryson who provides patient care in the outdoor clinic.  “Not only are we not exposing staff repeatedly to possible virus, but we are also available for the ill members of the community who can be seen quickly from the comfort of their own vehicle. The car is a natural barrier that we do not have inside the clinic.”  

Dr. Julie Bryson providing patient care in the outdoor clinic

Treating patients in an outdoor clinic comes with its challenges, but also its rewards. As each car drives through the canopies, the patients are triaged and receive spiritual material focusing on topics of hope, peace, health, anxiety, etc. It is during this wait time that many patients utilize their time to peruse the reading material and then share with the medical staff their appreciation of meeting this need. “Many patients have expressed their anxieties related to perpetuated fear that is inundating the community via media and restrictive measures,” says Bethany Helm, the Physician Assistant who works alongside Dr. Bryson in the outdoor clinic. “We are able to use this time to engage in opportunities to pray, encourage, and educate our patients about disease and prevention.”

Isaias Santos, Physical Therapy Director, gets ready to serve hydrotherapy patients in an outdoor set up

SDA was also the first on island to offer the healing benefits of hydrotherapy made available to patients with upper respiratory illness or those who tested positive for COVID. The Physical Therapy department, alongside the maintenance staff, were quick to build a suitable station where hydrotherapy treatments were performed in an outdoor setting. “I had a patient with upper respiratory symptoms that said she felt healed after one hydrotherapy session,” states Isaias Santos, Physical Therapy Director. “Another patient said he was concerned that his symptoms would progress to pneumonia, but he was so pleased that after two sessions he was feeling much better and his symptoms resolved.” Patients responded positively to the holistic approach and reported quicker healing time in addition to a decreased need for extended medication.  

While we have yet to determine the duration and sustainability of a long-term outdoor clinic, we have been blessed to have the staff and skill to meet the demands of an ever-changing landscape of medical care. These are unprecedented times we are living in and, as such, we have learned to lean on the Biblical counsel to be prepared “in and out of season” for the Lord will supply all our needs. It is “for such a time as this” that we have been called to serve in whatever mission field we find ourselves planted. May you cultivate your own ground and sow seeds of hope and peace to those in your community.

Atsushi Yamamuro, Clinic Nursing Manager, equips the staff with morning devotions
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