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After escaping California wildfire, doctor has blank slate at Presbyterian’s new Santa Fe ER

September 19, 2018

Dr. Joseph Chang remembers too well the incident that ultimately brought him to Santa Fe.

Chang took up his new post Aug. 13, physician in charge of the emergency department at Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center. The new facility on Beckner Road, including the state-of-the-art emergency department, opens Oct. 1.

Before coming to Santa Fe, Chang, 50, and his family lived in Santa Rosa, Calif., where he was medical director of the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital emergency department. One morning in early October last year, a frantic knock came at the door.

“So, 2:30, a neighbor banging at the door, saying, ‘You have to go!’ ” Chang recalled last month. “We did not see any fire; we thought it’s probably more of a precaution, just grab one day’s worth of stuff and important documents.”

That was the last he, his wife, Mei Hui Chen, and their two young children saw of their home. It burned to the ground during the Tubbs Fire, the massive wildfire that killed 22 people and destroyed more than 5,500 structures that October.

The next day, the Changs’ neighbor ventured back into the neighborhood and sent them a photograph, the doctor said.

“That’s when we realized the house is gone, completely,” he said. “We decided not to rebuild there, too many things happened there and we don’t want to jog our memories.”

He started a job search that ended with him coming to Santa Fe. Chang, who earned his medical degree at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, also holds an MBA from the University of Chicago and completed his residency at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York.

His long career history includes work in emergency medicine in China, where, as an executive with United Family Health, he helped develop practices and training programs for a number of clients, including government agencies and hospitals. He was also an assistant medical officer in Shanghai for nearly four years and responded to several disasters in China as a member of United Family Health’s disaster team.

The emergency department Chang will preside over in Santa Fe offersis a blank slate, an opportunity to do things a little differently and thereby reduce wait times, improve the efficiency of emergency care and, hopefully, reduce its costs, he said.

Presbyterian Santa Fe positioned its emergency department adjacent to its urgent care area. Arriving patients will be seen in a triage area before going to the appropriate department for treatment, hospital spokespeople said.

In a typical emergency room, “If you come with a twisted ankle or a sore throat, you might not be seen right away,” Chang said. “Using this model, we can divert you; we can still see you rather quickly at the urgent care center.”

The hospital assembled a team of 11 emergency medicine specialists with a wide range of experience, with both international and New Mexico ties, said Dr. Darren Shafer, Presbyterian program medical director for urgent and emergency services.

“I’m really excited because I’ve personally recruited every one of these physicians,” Shafer said.

Chang said the emergency department works in three, 12-hour shifts. The first shift runs 7 a.m to 7 p.m., the second from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and the third overlapping the other two.

Stamina is one attribute most emergency care providers share, he and Shafer said, and an ability to cope with changing situations.

“The reality of what it takes and why some folks may or may not make it has a lot to do with internal resiliency — the ability to handle high stress and not panic,” Shafer said, “to be comfortable with you-never-know-what type of emergency is coming in.”

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