By Irene Agostini, MD

A Sharper Image

UNM Hospital Sonography Team Provides Prenatal Care in Gallup Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

We are being bombarded daily with anxiety-producing headlines about the COVID-19 pandemic in all of our media - radio, television, podcasts and newspapers. It feels like the world is ending every day.

The newest place to catch national and international media attention is close to home: Gallup, N.M., which recently was under lockdown to mitigate the spread of the disease.

But at UNM Hospital, our people know that despite the headlines, our patients continue to need non-COVID care.

A case in point is our Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) outreach program. Each week, a team of specialized ultrasonographers heads to Gallup in our van to see patients. They meet at the UNM Women's Clinic on Eubank Boulevard,collect their machines and supplies (now with additional PPE) and drive the 21/2 hours to Gallup. There, they set up all of this equipment at the Rehoboth McKinley Red Rocks clinic and see patients.

Gallup Sonography

I had the honor of accompanying our team to Gallup last week. I joined patient care coordinator Sahib Ahmadi, medical assistant Sofia Sargert, ultrasound sonographers Taylor Shoemaker and Yasue Damianov and last, but not least, our wonderful driver Les Gambrel.

This team leaves the comfort of UNMH and drives into the COVID epicenter to provide needed care to patients who need prenatal ultrasounds. Their day in Gallup ends at about 3:30 p.m., and then they pack up the van again. They arrive at the Eubank clinic after 6, unpack all the equipment and head home after a long day.

Some outpatient visits can be accomplished remotely, but putting gel on a gravid belly and looking at a growing fetus is not one of them. Our MFM doctors often accompany the team, but this week the patients met with Dr. Vivek Katukuri remotely via Zoom after he looked at the images.

Driving into Gallup is intimidating. There are signs along I-40 advising people to wear their masks, there was a long line of cars at the drive up testing site at the Rehoboth McKinley hospital. We were all screened at the tent outside the clinic, collecting another colored dot to enter.

Some of the patients I met live on the Navajo Nation, at least 40 minutes from Gallup. For them, a round trip to Albuquerque would be all-day affair. The expenditure of gas and time as well as the difficulty in travel during the coronavirus pandemic is significant, not to mention that most facilities are closed now because of COVID.

This work is our work, it is not cost-effective or easy for us, but it provides essential care for the patients who need us most. If we can prevent one bad outcome for a baby by providing high-quality prenatal care, we have helped with health care in New Mexico and improved health for that baby's family.

This is a team of unsung heroes. Providing outreach is not easy, and during a pandemic it is almost impossible. But our team does this, and I could not be prouder of them or feel more honored to have them invite me to see this important work.

Categories: Community Engagement, Health, News You Can Use, School of Medicine, Top Stories