This story was originally published by San Antonio Report and can be found here.
Dr. Erika Gonzalez is a mother and a military veteran, a community leader on the rise, a practitioner in and owner of an allergy practice with three locations in San Antonio.
But the coronavirus outbreak has proved unsparing and, on Wednesday, Gonzalez will join her two sisters in reciting the rosary before laying to rest their mother, Laura Gonzalez, who died Aug. 13 from complications of COVID-19. She was 69.
Her death came despite the precautions she took to keep from contracting the virus and efforts by her physician daughter, her family, and the doctors to save her. Having connections to the medical community and knowledge of the health care system were not enough.
“You can bet that we did everything we could, no stone left unturned, no connection that I didn’t try to use,” Gonzalez said. “We were powerless.”
Now Gonzalez is keeping a watchful eye on her 80-year-old father, Heriberto, who is still hospitalized with the virus but appears to be recovering.
The couple fell ill within days of one another in mid-July. Unlike many victims of the virus, Laura’s symptoms did not include fever, a cough, body aches, or shortness of breath – the most common signs of coronavirus.
Only when she couldn’t eat due to persistent nausea and vomiting – and Laura’s daughters worried their mother could become dehydrated – was she diagnosed and hospitalized. By then, her blood oxygen levels were dangerously low even though she was not complaining of shortness of breath. Heriberto’s hospitalization followed a day later.
Within the week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added nausea and vomiting to the list of coronavirus symptoms, Gonzalez said.
Remembering a mother
Gonzalez describes Laura as the strongest woman she knows. As a young wife and mother who learned English watching daytime TV, Laura returned briefly to her home in Mexico to attend dental school, then rejoined her husband in the U.S. and started her own practice in a border town.
“I have great memories of going to work with my mom,” Gonzalez said of those years in which the seeds of her own medical career were planted.
But Laura was also devoted to her son with special needs and other medical conditions who required extra care and attention. “Not until I became a mom did I fully realize how hard that must have been to take care of a child with special needs and three other young girls and own a small business,” Gonzalez said. “It’s unbelievable to me, honestly.”
In Laura’s later years, following retirement and the death of their son, she took advantage of every day, especially to travel, Gonzalez said. “She lived it to the fullest and never let anything slow her down.”
But when the coronavirus outbreak began in March, Laura and Heriberto sheltered at home, only venturing out to the grocery store. Gonzalez doesn’t know how her parents contracted the virus.
Laura’s first coronavirus test came back negative but it soon became obvious she needed to be hospitalized.
“Like any other family, my two sisters and I were doing our best to advocate for my parents,” Gonzalez said. “We were in touch with all their physicians either because we knew them personally or knew someone who knew them.”
After her mother was intubated and put on a ventilator, the sisters decided to transfer the couple from a private hospital to Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC). They hoped Laura could receive extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment at BAMC, one of only two local hospitals equipped for such care.
The hospital was also a familiar place for them. Gonzalez had done her fellowship training at BAMC and her sister would soon be working there as a specialty surgeon. It felt like home, she said, and Heriberto, as a veteran and one of the first physician assistants to be trained in the Air Force, and his wife were eligible to receive treatment at BAMC.
“It turned out to be one of the best things we did for them,” she said, though Laura’s condition deteriorated before she was able to receive ECMO treatment.
But as her mother faded, the hospital allowed Gonzalez the chance to be with her mom in her final hours – an opportunity she doesn’t take for granted, since many family members have not been permitted to be present as their loved ones died.
Using her voice
A former military physician and now community leader as chairwoman of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Gonzalez hopes she can help military medical facilities pioneer a solution that allows families like hers to be with their loved ones dying of the virus. “Because we all know that if we’re taking proper precautions that the risk is a lot lower, and I think in situations like that it will just prevent a lot of mental anguish that some of these families go through,” she said.
The pandemic also accelerated her plans for a nonprofit she founded in April. Months before her own parents fell ill, she established Con Corazón San Antonio, an organization that will work to address health inequity and emergency preparedness in underprivileged communities.
Due to the pandemic, the first initiative of Con Corazón is raising awareness about the importance of donating convalescent plasma to help others recover from illnesses such as COVID-19. While her mother was able to receive plasma therapy, Gonzalez believes it could have improved her chances if she’d had it sooner.
“We’re hoping to turn a very tragic moment in my personal life into hopefully seeing some good come out of it and maybe helping somebody else or another family down the road,” she said.
Gonzalez said she chose to serve as the Hispanic chamber’s chairwoman this year to use her voice to support the small business community, especially in health care.
“Never in my mind did I ever imagine that it would take on a whole different meaning with this pandemic,” she said.
But her platform is now more personal than ever. Despite her grief, she is speaking out now in the hopes she can influence how the community responds to the public health crisis.
“People might think that somebody in my position, whether it’s because I’m a doctor, or whether it’s because I’m the chair of the chamber … I can make it better by my knowledge or connections or whatever,” she said. But in this case, she was powerless to change the outcome for her own mother.
When Gonzalez saw her mother’s perplexing symptoms worsen, she said she felt as bewildered and fearful of the virus as the rest of the medical community.
“How does a virus do what I’m seeing?” she said she thought to herself. “It was a very sobering realization.”
The alarming surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations in San Antonio — where at least one in four new patients has the disease — is growing at a faster rate than in other major Texas cities.
For the last week, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the trauma-care region that includes San Antonio rose by 55 percent, state health department figures show.
This story was originally published by the San Antonio Business Journal and can be found here.
Dr. Erika Gonzalez, chairwoman of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, was chosen as one of four national co-chairs for the Small Business for America’s Future coalition.
The organization, based in Washington, D.C., consists of small business owners and leaders who advocate for policies that facilitate small business growth, while leveling the playing field with big business. The organization asks policymakers to prioritize Main Street businesses by advancing an economic framework and Covid-19 recovery plan for small businesses and their employees.
Small Business for America’s Future surveyed more than 1,200 small business owners nationally. Of those surveyed, 84% said they felt leaders favor big business over small business, and 81% of respondents said leaders do not understand the needs of small business.
The survey also found that 53% of respondents have incurred new debt related to Covid-19, with nearly 25% of them having new debt of more than $20,000, and 18% with debt over $100,000.
The organization is an evolution of the former organization called Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform, which launched in 2017 as an advocate for small businesses during tax reform. It will now focus on three areas of policy reform: health insurance, taxes and economic security.
“We’re committed to ensuring policymakers at every level of government prioritize Main Street by advancing an economic framework that benefits both small businesses and our employees,” Gonzalez said. “Reducing the crushing cost of providing health insurance will be important to ensuring small businesses are strong enough financially while maintaining coverage for employees.”
The other three co-chairs of the organization include Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce; Anne Zimmerman, owner of Zimmerman and Co. CPAs in Ohio; and Shaundell Newsome, owner of Sumnu Marketing and board chairman for the Urban Chamber of Commerce Las Vegas.
The group had been co-chairs for Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform, but wanted to be more geographically and racially diverse, specifically looking to add a Latina as a co-chair, said Gonzalez, who is CEO of the South Texas Allergy and Asthma Medical Professionals PLLC.
The organization reached out to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which recommended Gonzalez.
“It lets me represent the Latino businesses nationally,” Gonzalez said.
Her Spanish speaking abilities has already enabled her to communicate the organization’s message to bilingual audiences across the nation.
This story was originally published by San Antonio Report and can be found here.
Mental health experts encourage small-business owners wrestling with coronavirus-related stress and anxiety to talk openly and honestly about their struggles to cultivate a flexible work environment that can adapt to the needs of the business and its employees.
In a webinar hosted by the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (SAHCC) on Thursday, the local experts said a “silver lining” to the coronavirus pandemic is that it highlights the need for people to pay attention to their mental health when they are struggling with heightened or overwhelming emotions.
“What we know is that there is a lot of power in acknowledging the struggle,” said Clarissa Aguilar, behavioral health consultant with the Center for Health Care Services, Bexar County’s mental health authority. “Checking in with people if they seem like they need help or resources, and helping people remember the mission and vision, will help keep people connected to the passion that” made the entrepreneurial venture possible.
Joining Aguilar in the conversation focused on “normalizing” conversations about mental health and the workplace were Adriana Dyurich, a licensed counselor with UT Health San Antonio, and Dr. Ted Williams, founder of Genesis Psychiatric Center and UT Health San Antonio psychiatry professor. Rivard Report Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard moderated the panel conversation, sponsored by UT Health San Antonio, on the videoconferencing platform Zoom.
SAHCC Chairwoman and webinar organizer Dr. Erika Gonzalez said that SAHCC’s health and bioscience committee had planned to spend this year creating a health and wellness program for employees of small businesses that included a strong mental health component, but “when the pandemic occurred, there were more and different mental health issues that arose as small business owners struggled to keep their doors open and people employed,” so the focus shifted to employers.
“We were in an existing mental health crisis in our country before the pandemic hit,” Aguilar said, noting “the mental health effects for this pandemic will be longer lasting than the physical health ones.”
“The first thing I have done is tried to help my employees understand at least my perspective of the facts,” Williams said. “Fear-driven behavior won’t help us very much.”
Mental health support
Texas Health and Human Services Commission
COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line, (833) 986-1919
Cross Bridge Church
Pastor Shawn Sullivan, (210) 849-5905
Reflection International Ministries
Ramon Chapa, (210) 365-5250
CJC Life Church
Text (210) 724-3353 to begin the process
Mind Your Self Counseling
Support for ages 5 and up, (210) 564-9116
Stephen A. Cohen Clinic at Endeavors
Virtual appointments for veterans and immediate family, (833) 286-8387
Marriage and family therapy, (210) 643-7464
Williams, a small-business owner, said that because SAHCC members and business owners are “leaders of the community,” people will be looking to them to know what to do as the economy continues to reopen and the virus continues to be diagnosed throughout Bexar County.
Williams said COVID-19-related policy changes likely will take up the vast majority of staff meeting time because circumstances and guidance are continually evolving, but also essential are ongoing conversations about “all employee and employer needs.”
Dyurich said being more open to communication about emotions will help even when “talking about the practical issues [like] how to schedule shifts and the workflow.”
“I don’t think that anybody expects business leaders to know how to respond as mental health professionals, but to be able to validate what people are saying, to listen to the one another with openness and honesty, will help organizations to be flexible and adapt to people’s needs,” Dyurich said, adding that no solution fits everyone. “We are experiencing a lot of fear, trauma, and grief that doesn’t have to stay much longer than needed” if we address instead of internalize them.
Aguilar said that by thinking “about what you value,” personally and professionally, and “the things that drive those values,” business owners can create a plan of action.
“Small-business owners are having to think about the challenges and ethics involved, because economically there is a need, but from a social or population health perspective” they may wonder if they are doing the right thing for the community, Aguilar said. “If you can focus on one thing that is related to what you value the most, it can help you feel better about making decisions and also help with mental health.”
For small-business owners to stay grounded, Aguilar used the metaphor “dropping the anchor,” which involves “acknowledging thoughts and feelings and engaging in the present moment to guide decision-making.”
“We are all facing a big storm but we may not all be in the same boat, and dropping the anchor won’t make the storm go away but it will keep the boat in place,” Aguilar said.
Williams recommended “giving each other quite a bit of grace to have differing opinions.”
“When people are afraid, they can’t help in that moment that they are afraid, and we need to not be judgmental about their behavior so they won’t be judgmental about our behavior,” Williams said. “Remember that ultimately we want a good outcome not just for ourselves, but for each other, because that will win the day.”
But for those moments when people are too overwhelmed with their emotions to process them reasonably on their own or through conversations with trusted peers, the panelists said it’s important for people to know what resources are available to people who need help from trained professionals.
“There is a difference between being down and upset and being depressed,” Williams said, explaining that depression stays with a person; it’s not a feeling one simply moves on from.
In addition to talking openly about feelings both at and outside of work, panelists encouraged people experiencing overwhelming emotions to spend 30 minutes a day doing something active or meditative, including spending time outside or going for a walk, and “giving yourself grace and prioritizing what is important in a given moment.”
For those with children at home, it might be that math is not the thing needing to be prioritized at the moment. Remind yourself that teachers were trained to know how to teach their students, Dyurich said.
Noting that most entrepreneurs are high achievers, Aguilar said it can be important to “dial back down the expectations you set for what can be accomplished.”
“During this time people need to learn how to better embrace and respond to change,” Aguilar said. “We might not have the most optimal circumstance in our home or at work, but we can remember we are trying to do our best.”
This story was originally published by San Antonio Report and can be found here.
In an effort to address the unique challenges small business owners and entrepreneurs have faced during the coronavirus pandemic, the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (SAHCC) is hosting a mental health webinar on Thursday to discuss stress and anxiety in the business community. The goal is to help “normalize the conversation” and empower those in need to reach out for help.
“The mental health concerns experienced by [small business owners] and entrepreneurs is something that we have seen” increase over the years, with more people dying by suicide and experiencing crises, SAHCC Chairwoman Dr. Erika Gonzalez said. “When the pandemic occurred, there were more and different mental health issues that arose as small business owners struggled to keep their doors open and people employed.”
The COVID-19 Mental Health Webinar, moderated by Rivard Report Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard, will discuss mental health challenges for small business owners, including entrepreneurs with children juggling work and home life demands, stresses and risks involved in owning a small business, and information about available resources for those needing support.
Panelists include Clarissa Aguilar, behavioral health consultant with the Center for Health Care Services, Bexar County’s mental health authority, Adriana Dyurich, a licensed counselor with UT Health San Antonio, and Dr. Ted Williams, founder of Genesis Psychiatric Center and UT Health San Antonio psychiatry professor.
Dr. Lyssa Ochoa, chair of SAHCC’s healthcare and bioscience committee, said the panelists were selected because of their mental health expertise but also their entrepreneurial experiences that “help give insight and reflection into the stresses of small business ownership.”
“How small business leaders have been handling the stress of COVID-19 is something important to talk about because mental health has quite a stigma attached to it, and at the same time, we have the least resources in San Antonio [to address it],” Ochoa said. “If a person had a previous mental health concern, it might be even worse for them now, and we need people to keep checking in on how they are being impacted.”
Ochoa said SAHCC’s health and bioscience committee had planned to spend this year creating a health and wellness program for employees of small businesses that included a strong mental health component, but “this pandemic turned everything upside down” and the focus shifted to the employers.
The committee is now dedicating that time to discussing how the anxiety and uncertainty already attached to the entrepreneurial experience is exacerbated due to coronavirus, and that it is more important than ever to reach out for help.
“As small business owners, we are used to handling stressful situations, but we are trying to make sure we put out there that despite the ability to handle stress, it’s OK if a person needs help,” Ochoa said.
The webinar will air on Zoom from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 28, and is open to the public free of charge. To register in advance, click here.
This story was originally published by PBS and can be found here.
Host T.J. Mayes talks with Dr. Erika Gonzalez, CEO of STAAMP Allergy, about how the COVID-19 pandemic might have changed the future for telemedicine. San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez discusses the return of customers to business, and why the next step for success is to make customers feel safe.
This story was originally published by MYSA and can be found here.
The coronavirus pandemic has added a layer of uncertainty and anxiety to allergy season.
San Antonio residents are turning to professionals to make sure their symptoms are allergies and not something else.