Gay Atlanta doctor closes practice after possible coronavirus exposure

T. Douglas Gurley’s medical practice will close permanently in May following a potential coronavirus outbreak, leaving patients of the LGBTQ medical practice in “shock.”

Gurley (photo) emailed the announcement to patients on Monday and posted it on Facebook on Tuesday, leading to a flood of comments from concerned patients.

Patients that visited Gurley’s office since March 9 “had potential exposure” to coronavirus and should quarantine for two weeks from the date they visited the office, according to the email.

“I believe that I have also been infected,” Gurley wrote. “I am at home recovering.”

Gurley said the Georgia Department of Public Health advised him to close the office. But a GDPH spokesperson told Project Q Atlanta that it does not recommend office closures. GDPH offered to provide guidance for Gurley’s office to do a risk assessment to identify potentially exposed patients or employees, the spokesperson said.

Gurley said he had “no choice” but to permanently close the office. 

“This was an incredibly difficult decision for me to make,” Gurley wrote. 

The email announcement lists the closing date as April 24, but a revised announcement posted to the practice’s website said the practice will close on May 1.

Gurley’s office will manage patients through its patient portal “as best we can” until the office closes, according to the email.

It’s unclear why the practice is closing permanently, when the possible coronavirus exposure took place, how many patients or employees were infected or what services are available to patients through the patient portal. Gurley was too ill to respond to questions from Project Q, according to a spokesperson for the medical practice.

The practice in Old Fourth Ward focuses on LGBTQ health care and has several staff members who specialize in HIV care. 

'I don't know what I'm going to do'

 

Gurley’s announcement took gay Atlanta resident Billy Kinzer by surprise. He became a patient of Gurley’s practice in 2018.

“It comes as a shock to me because they were hiring doctors and practitioners and did some remodeling,” he said. “It’s just really weird. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“[The announcement] doesn’t mention anything about getting referrals to other clinics or anything like that,” Kinzer added.

He said he was more comfortable going to a practice that specialized in LGBTQ health care.

“We have different issues that we have to deal with,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to speak to someone that can relate to those issues. It makes it a lot easier and makes you less on guard.”

Gay Atlanta resident Robbie Medwed, who became a patient of Gurley's practice earlier this month, agreed. 

“I'm really sad to hear they're closing,” Medwed said. “I was so excited to find a queer-friendly doctor. I felt more comfortable there in my few short visits than I have with anyone else. Atlanta needs more LGBTQ-focused doctors and medical clinics, so I hope the doctors and staff find themselves able to keep helping in the future."

Buckhead-based Absolute Care offered to take on some of Gurley’s former patients.

“The loss of a large HIV and LGBTQ-centered primary care provider in Atlanta is terrible news for a community already short on medical providers,” Medical Director Joel Rosenstock said. “Absolute Care welcomes new patients, but the loss of a long-time caregiver is never easy.”

Here is Gurley’s announcement to patients: 

March 23, 2020

Dear Patients,

Patients that were in the office since Monday, March 9, 2020, had potential exposure to the novel coronavirus. Pursuant to current CDC guidelines, patients who had contact with the teams of Dr. Elliott, P.A. Griffin, P.A. Moody, and my team since March 9, 2020, should quarantine themselves for two weeks from the date they were in the office. Additionally, regardless of which team treated you, I recommend that if you were in the office since March 9, 2020, you quarantine yourself for two weeks from the date you were in the office. As you have probably heard by now, you can be contagious before symptoms appear.  

I believe that I have also been infected. I am at home recovering.

This virus is very contagious. I urge you to stay at home and socially isolate.

The Georgia Department of Health has advised me to close the office and I have done so today. 

If you begin to have symptoms of COVID-19 -- fever, chills, with cough and body aches -- and your symptoms are mild with no respiratory distress, there is no need for testing at this point, and you can manage your symptoms with over the counter prescriptions like Tylenol, ibuprofen and Mucinex.

If your symptoms are more severe and you are having shortness of breath, you should report to the emergency room at a nearby hospital.

I have been advised that Piedmont Hospital has stopped any routine testing, imaging, procedures, and surgeries. Nobody is sure how long that will last, but it is likely going to be somewhere between June to August.

We will be managing patients via the patient portal for next month as best as we can. Our goal is to provide you with up to 6 months of refills. If you are not enrolled in the patient portal, you may contact us via e-mail at [email protected]

Unfortunately, I have determined that I have no choice but to permanently close the office on May 1, 2020. This was an incredibly difficult decision for me to make.

We are making arrangements for you and those you authorize to have access to your medical records and will be sending you additional information about this as soon as possible.

Please be patient with us as we all struggle to work through this national emergency.

T. Douglas Gurley MD

Photo via Facebook