By Annette Bernat
Sixty years ago, when E. Wayne Carr, DC, opened his first clinic in Miller, S.D., he practiced by a simple motto that he learned as a student at National from his mentor, Joseph Janse, DC: “Doctor first, chiropractor by discipline.” Today, his three sons, two grandsons and an associate who continue the family’s practice live that vision as they serve as medical directors of the COVID-19 response in their community.
While the question of whether chiropractors in the U.S. are part of the essential healthcare workforce was raised in some states in the early weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, in South Dakota chiropractors are classified as physicians in their state scope of practice and therefore were never asked to close. In fact, the Carr family, which operates four clinics in South Dakota, demonstrated just how essential chiropractors could be. The family has been at the center of local efforts to provide reliable information about COVID-19 and to establish a testing site in the community. Their work continues to this day and shows no sign of stopping as the virus continues to surge in some places.
“Our clinic mission is to make a difference and to care for people,” explains Joe Carr, DC, son of the clinic’s founder, who practices with brothers Dr. Wayne and Dr. John, nephews Dr. Josh and Dr. Taylor, and associate Dr. Scott Hartung. “We have been able to live out that mission and vision without the blink of an eye.”
“I’ve learned what chiropractors can do on a healthcare team,” adds Josh Carr, DC. “We can make a huge impact on what’s happening in the world.”
A Legacy of Service
Dr. Joe recalls that when his father began practicing, there were only two orthopedic surgeons in the entire state of South Dakota. As a result, the elder Dr. Carr’s practice was very trauma based, as he frequently treated injuries such as dislocations, fractures, and other extremity injuries. He also developed great relationships with medical providers in the community, who came to know and value his role as a primary care provider.
The Carr sons and grandsons have continued that spirit of community involvement and service, building strong relationships with the local hospital and community leaders. When the first coronavirus cases hit the area in March, the family immediately recognized that they could take pressure off the hospital by, much like the elder Carr in his day, assuming trauma cases that would otherwise end up in the ER.
“We had two coronavirus deaths right away in the community,” explains Dr. Joe, “so everyone was taking it seriously.”
Soon Dr. Josh received a call from a friend who worked at the hospital, an infectious disease and public health expert, asking him to participate on the Beadle County COVID-19 Task Force, which soon designated Drs. Josh, Joe and Wayne Carr as its medical directors. The first order of business was figuring out how to mitigate the spread of the infection.
The need for education was a priority. By the end of March, the Carr family and their team established a call center to answer the community’s questions. Prepped with information from the CDC, about 60 volunteers—including members of the Carr family—were rotated through the call center during the week, from about 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Calls went directly to the hospital after hours and on weekends.
Next, the task force established a drive-through testing site (pictured). In the beginning, it was just Dr. Joe and a local dentist and optometrist who conducted the basal swab tests, which were sent to the hospital to be developed. Evenings were spent calling people who were tested back with their results.
“It was a week-long free for all getting the call center and the testing site up and running,” remembers Dr. Joe. “The hospital—from the administrators to the janitors—was so excited for the help” in identifying sick people with mild symptoms early and keeping them out of the ER.
He gives special credit to members of the task force who had military experience for their ability to take swift action. “They were accustomed to hierarchy and chain of command. Once assigned a task, they got straight to work,” says Dr. Joe. “They taught us a ton!”
Dr. Josh, who also serves as vice president of the South Dakota Chiropractic Association, encouraged chiropractors statewide to do temperature checks on employees and patients and to screen for the virus, sending any suspected cases to testing sites. Patients were overwhelmingly thankful for the proactive approach and clear directions.
As part of its response, the task force also held weekly press conferences to update the community on their activities and to share new information. Dr. Joe said he received many messages from friends and patients who watched the press conferences and were reassured to see the Carr family involved so prominently. “That was one of the biggest compliments to us,” he recalls.
Flattening the Curve
The Carr family’s hard work has paid off for Beadle County, which has a population of about 18,000. After the first couple of cases in March and a surge in May, the number of new cases has dropped consistently since early June. A recent report on the Beadle County website for July 6 found only one new case reported for that day, 541 total cases in the county since the start of the pandemic, 69 active cases, 465 recovered cases and only 7 deaths.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has often cited the work of the Beadle County COVID-19 Task Force as an example of how the state has aggressively tackled the coronavirus.
Today, the call center and the testing process has been streamlined and is easier to manage. The Carr’s Huron clinic now shares testing duties with the hospital and another clinic. Dr. Joe’s son, Sam, who is in school and planning a healthcare career, was hired to manage the call center full time.
The Carrs are also now working with the superintendent of schools and local coaches to get student athletic programs back on track. They have been screening summer teams and are moving forward cautiously, as some small surges have occurred. “Every day is a new day,” says Dr. Joe.
Asked if they think chiropractors in other areas could become involved in their community’s COVID-19 response, the Carr family feel strongly that they could. “We have the knowledge, the training and the people skills,” says Dr. Joe. “You have to get involved. The counties are looking for healthcare providers with a passion to help.”
Annette Bernat is ACA vice president of branding and communications. If you are an ACA member and have a pandemic-related story to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.