How Congress’s Attending Doctor Is Treating Lawmakers Amid a Pandemic

WASHINGTON — When Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, sought steering on learn how to shield his household, together with his 94-year-old father-in-law, when he returned house from the nation’s capital amid the coronavirus pandemic, a physician supplied him some blunt recommendation.

Don’t go house simply but, Dr. Brian P. Monahan, the attending doctor of Congress, informed Mr. Barrasso, directing him to quarantine for 14 days earlier than rejoining his household. “You’re a customer,” Dr. Monahan stated.

However when Home Democratic leaders wished counsel on whether or not they might safely reconvene within the Capitol with Covid-19 nonetheless spreading — a debate with political dimensions as a partisan divide was rising throughout the nation over how rapidly to reopen — Dr. Monahan was much less absolute. Returning to Washington carried well being dangers he wouldn’t suggest taking, he informed Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Consultant Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the bulk chief. However it was as much as them to resolve what to do.

It was typical of Dr. Monahan, the 59-year-old Navy rear admiral who is understood within the halls of the Capitol as a lot for his meticulous consideration to medical element as he’s for his efforts to remain fully out of politics.

“He’s each an government with a number of well being care tasks — significantly now — and in addition has the distinctive relationship with members {that a} small-town physician would have with the sufferers he is aware of and sees,” stated Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri and chairman of the Senate Guidelines Committee. “He’s in a novel function at a novel time”

As authorities docs have emerged as trusted public voices and political figures within the face of a fearsome pandemic — showing in White Home information conferences and as witnesses at marquee hearings — Dr. Monahan has maintained an uncommonly low profile.

He by no means issued a public assertion providing his opinion on whether or not Congress ought to reconvene, though he shared his warnings with Home leaders and privately informed senior Republican officers that his office did not have the capacity to display screen all 100 senators for the coronavirus once they returned to work. When Alex M. Azar II, the well being secretary, stated he would ship 1,000 checks to Capitol Hill to accommodate them, Ms. Pelosi and Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the bulk chief, turned down the supply, cautious of the optics of receiving particular remedy at a time when testing was scarce — and prompting President Trump to suggest on Twitter that, “perhaps you want a brand new Physician over there.”

Dr. Monahan, who declined to be interviewed, has been a peaceful {and professional} voice of cause throughout the pandemic, based on interviews with greater than two dozen lawmakers, Capitol officers and medical professionals who know him. They are saying he has taken a private curiosity in his influential clientele, which additionally contains the 9 Supreme Court docket justices, at the same time as he fields politically charged questions on reopening, testing and precautionary measures.

Working out of a nondescript clinic tucked away within the coronary heart of the Capitol, Dr. Monahan and a small workers have been exceedingly busy for the reason that pandemic took maintain, consulting with lawmakers who’ve contracted Covid-19 or uncovered to somebody contaminated with it, doling out well being suggestions in detailed memos forward of votes, and producing a collection of movies launched on an inner web site to teach lawmakers and their workers on learn how to shield themselves.

Dr. Monahan has filmed and produced the movies by himself in his workplace, typically seated subsequent to an elaborate bouquet of white flowers and a tiny plastic mannequin of a pangolin, the scaly mammal which will have been an middleman provider of the virus.

Within the movies, he usually walks by way of the newest suggestions supplied by the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention and demonstrates medical gear, reminiscent of a thermometer and a wide range of masks (including one made by his wife, utilizing a black buying bag and a stitching machine.)

“He has a giant job — two homes of Congress, two events to take care of — however he’s not political in any manner,” Ms. Pelosi stated. “He treats us all with respect, and we respect his judgment in return.”

Dr. Monahan in 2009 grew to become the seventh man to function attending doctor, taking on a place that has all the time been held by a Navy physician. The Home first permitted a Navy officer to work out of the Democratic cloakroom in 1928 after one lawmaker died and two collapsed, with a number of hours passing earlier than a physician might arrive in every case. Two years later, the Senate extended that doctor’s jurisdiction to incorporate its personal members, resulting in the institution of the Workplace of the Attending Doctor.

The workplace offers care to lawmakers for a price, in addition to providing some companies and emergency care to workers and vacationers. The primary doctor, Dr. George W. Calver, who started his work simply earlier than the beginning of the Nice Despair, displayed placards in cloakrooms and elevators across the Capitol together with his 9 “Commandments of Well being,” together with, “Settle for Inevitables (don’t fear)” and “Loosen up Fully.”

Dr. Monahan was born in Connecticut, the son of Irish immigrants who got here to america within the 1950s. His mom grew up in Kilkee, whereas his father grew up in a home with a thatched roof with out working water or electrical energy in Lissycasey. The primary in his household to attend school, he labored full-time at a grocery store whereas commuting in a yellow Volkswagen Beetle to Fairfield College, a Jesuit school — an training, he would tell graduates in 2011, that meant, “you might be referred to as to be ‘women and men for others.’”

He studied biology and chemistry, and after graduating, joined the Navy by way of its Well being Professions Scholarship Program, enticed partly by the supply of free tuition and a dwelling allowance in trade for a dedication to 3 years of service.

“Brian was all the time the neatest child within the class,” stated Dr. William Dahut, a medical oncologist who frolicked with him in each medical faculty and the Navy. “If there was a publication or information, Brian knew that information and knew that nicely.”

In 1989, as a resident within the cardiology ward in what was then the Nationwide Naval Medical Heart in Bethesda, Md., he handled a 39-year-old lady for doubtlessly deadly cardiac arrhythmias. The affected person had taken the favored antihistamine Seldane, and his contribution to analysis on that drugs — and its connection to the arrhythmias — later helped result in its elimination from the market.

Dr. Monahan rose by way of the ranks of the Navy, turning into a professor of drugs and pathology on the Uniformed Companies College of the Well being Sciences in Maryland, in addition to collaborating in numerous nationwide organizations associated to most cancers, oncology and hematology.

Whereas serving because the Chairman of the Division of Medication on the college, he obtained a name for a gathering by which officers with congressional management requested him to change into the attending doctor on Capitol Hill when his predecessor retired.

“He was the one who suggested me to go to the hospital,” stated Consultant Ben McAdams, Democrat of Utah and one of many first lawmakers to contract the virus, stated of Dr. Monahan. “He was clear: ‘I strongly suggest you go to the hospital — that is severe.’”

The congressman has spoken with the physician not less than a dozen occasions since, he stated in an interview on Thursday — however had but to satisfy Dr. Monahan in individual.

An avid photographer, Dr. Monahan’s pictures are current in workplaces across the Capitol — and he has been identified to supply recommendation on learn how to greatest seize a scenic landmark or vista on journeys abroad.

He checks in together with his highly effective sufferers regularly, together with lengthy after they’ve recovered.

“I’ve been round for a protracted time period, and he simply takes extra of a private curiosity than anybody else I’ve ever identified in that place,” stated Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the Senate Armed Companies Committee, who has been on Capitol Hill for greater than three many years. “He simply appears to be genuinely taken with me — and he’s that manner with everyone.”

Nicholas Fandos and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett contributed analysis.

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