Heroes Among Us: Dr. James Black

Updated: Mar. 26, 2020 at 10:02 AM EDT
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - In this month’s “Heroes Among Us,” a veteran in Albany is on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

You may have seen Dr. James Black during press conferences in Dougherty County the past couple of weeks.

He is the medical director of Emergency Services at Phoebe Putney Health System, and Albany is his hometown.

He graduated from Dougherty Comprehensive High School and what was Albany State College at the time, before attending medical school at Ohio State University.

Prior to his work in Albany, Black served as an officer in the Navy from 1995 to 2000.

“It’s basically the primary care physician for an air wing," he explained.

He focused a lot on taking care of people who were relatively healthy, and making sure everyone was prepared for battle.

After his time in the Navy, he did a fellowship in disaster medicine and a residency in emergency medicine.

He came back to the Good Life City in 2006.

“My family was here and I wanted to come back and spend time with my parents,” Dr. Black said. "I said, I’ll go home for one or two years and work and then I’ll move somewhere else. I guess that one or two years has become 14 so far.”

At Phoebe, he treats patients in the emergency department and also helps lead the hospital in an administrative role.

Right now, he’s helping lead Phoebe’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in one of the hot spots in the state.

“We are always in the mindset, what if something were to happen here," he explained. “We went from if it happens to when it happens. We never thought we would be one of the early places to see such a dramatic rise.”

Dr. Black said the health system’s preparedness team had emergency plans ready in case of an outbreak like this. But, he says they’re using parts of those plans they never thought they’d have to use.

In medical school, you usually learn to treat every single patient with a max amount of resources, according to Dr. Black.

His time in the military taught him how to handle decisions under tougher circumstances.

“We began the, how do you allocate scarce resources, and what decisions would you make especially in times of conflict, who would you use the very scarce resources on...” he explained.

“Not so much the number of patients that are positive, but the number of patients that are positive and symptomatic and very sick has been very eye-opening," said Dr. Black.

He has even known some of the people who have now tested positive.

“I tell you, that’s the double-edged sword to coming home,” he said. “When you’re taking care of people that you don’t know, you kind of have a more objective view than when you take care of people that you’ve known for 40+ years.”

He says the fight to save lives is not over yet.

“This is not going to be a one or two day or one or two week thing. This is going to be something that is sustained and we have to make sure the hospital is resilient and sustainable," Dr. Black said.

To nominate someone you know for “Heroes Among Us,” click here.

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