Dr. NJ — our Daytonian of the Week — is serving up compassion on the front lines

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to change the way that we react to and perceive the world around us, the front-line workers continue to head out into the eye of the storm in order to maintain some semblance of normality.

For the past few months, health care workers have taken heroic steps to ensure that all of those who need medical help, whether it’s coronavirus-related or not, receive it. In the Dayton area, one of these health care workers on the front lines is Dr. Matthew Noordsij-Jones.

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For the past 10 years, our Daytonian of the Week has been working at the Community Health Centers of Greater Dayton, providing primary health care to often underserved communities in the Dayton area — like those without health insurance. And now, amid the global health pandemic, “Dr. NJ” has continued to provide care to these patients, and in some cases, has worked to diagnose those with symptoms of the virus.

So, as an ode to our fiercest heroes on the front lines, we are taking a moment to honor a health care worker in our community, working hard to keep us safe. Continue reading to learn a bit more about Dr. NJ.

Tell us about your background. What has led you to this point in your career?

I actually grew up in Wisconsin, but I went to med school in Milwaukee and then came to Dayton to do residency in internal medicine and pediatrics. So that's how I came to Dayton to begin with, and my wife is actually a Daytonian from birth — she grew up down near Dot’s Market in Southeast Dayton. We met in residency, as she was doing her residency here as well. So, we ended up staying in Dayton and I actually got a job 10 years ago out of residency with Community Health Centers of Greater Dayton. So I've been there for the last 10 years.

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Explain your current role and how you contribute to the Dayton community.

So I'm a primary care doctor in North Dayton’s Corwin Nixon Health Center. We're a federally-qualified health center, which means we see anybody, regardless of whether they have insurance or not. We do a sliding scale for those that don't have insurance. We just do general primary care. So, I've been doing it now for 10 years and I have quite a wide range of patients of all ages and large families throughout Dayton. We see a really wide range of people. We see a very large immigrant population — many of them Turkish and from the North Dayton area. During my unpaid hours, I work a lot in trying to get health care for everybody. So what I do in my free time is try to get us toward a health care system that covers all Ohioans.

How has your professional life changed since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States?

It's weird actually — a lot more busy and less busy all at the same time, which is kind of strange. We don't want to be spreading the virus — we don't want to have people come in that don't have to be seen because we might be risking infecting them. We still have sick people coming into the office.

How do you determine which patients are allowed to come into the office, and which patients are not permitted in the office over fears of the spread of the coronavirus?

It's an ever-evolving thing. It's definitely changed as the weeks have gone on. It depends on what the patient needs and whether that's something that we feel is doable over the phone. Some things can be done over the phone, like refilling their medicines and stuff like that, but there are some things that we can't do over the phone since you can't physically put hands on a patient to check things like blood pressure. Some patients also don’t have the resources to do telehealth.  Some of our offices are starting to do video visits as well, but that's a bit tougher to do with our patient population because a lot of our patients don't have the technology to do that. But we still have a lot of patients that just need to be seen, since you can't just virtually evaluate somebody for an injury or to do injections, for example.

And you’re wearing protective equipment?

Yes — always. We don't have as much protective equipment as we'd like, just like everybody else, unfortunately. We are wearing surgical masks with all of our visits in person because we worry about also spreading  the coronavirus to our patients, since I could be an asymptomatic carrier. I don't want to be somebody who gives it to anybody, which is part of the reason why we don't have people come into the office if we can avoid it. We've had patients we've sent for testing for COVID-19, so we’ve had worries about the spread of the virus.

Does that make you nervous? Going into work every day during a health pandemic?

Obviously it does make me nervous. But this is what we signed up for — to take care of people and this is the time when people really need it, whether it’s related to COVID-19, or just based on the fact that everybody's anxiety is just that much higher right now because of everything going on. That's part of their health care, too, so a lot of what we're doing is actually related to COVID-19, but more on the psychology side of things actually.

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How has the local health care system handled the virus in an effective way?

I think as a state and city we've done a really good job of flattening the curve, as everybody says. It's amazing to see. We're a lot better off than we thought we would be at this point, which is great. If we do this right, it's going to look like we overreacted, which is a good thing. We're also lucky in that we’re not seeing the problem of the shortage in hospital beds and other medical equipment that we're seeing in other parts of the country and in the world.

What inspires you about Dayton?

I think that people coming together to help each other is great. I've lived in Dayton since 2006, but I've been in St. Anne's for the last 11 or 12 years now and I've loved watching Dayton grow as a community both in population and in vibrancy. It's been really great to see the city as it’s been reborn.

What are your favorite places to grab a bite to eat in Dayton? 

I have to give a shout out to the Fifth Street Brewpub because they're like three blocks from my house. They're great. Ghostlight would also be at the top of my list. I spend way too much time there getting caffeine and pastries.

Any final words of wisdom to those struggling in this trying time?

To realize that everybody's really stressed right now. And that that's OK — it's not wrong to be stressed. We're going to get through this together. We're seeing everybody come together to help, so don't be afraid to reach out to your family or friends or loved ones or just random people to get the help that you need. Because, like I said, we're all more stressed at this time, and that exacerbates everything else that's going on. Don't hesitate to reach out and get the help that you need — there are a lot of resources out there.

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