Champions in crisis

The past two weeks since my last post have bordered on surreal as we re-deploy our staff, reorganize our clinics, and work to keep our providers and patients safe. I want to take this time to recognize and acknowledge the effort, boundless creativity, and commitment of faculty, staff, and even our community at finding solutions in the face of the unknown. As our organization grapples with issues such as procuring sufficient PPE, and as we adjust the ways in which we practice, I want to recognize the courage of our faculty and trainees as they come in each day to care for all the patients under our charge. I also recognize the stress that everyone is under and reiterate the department’s commitment to support you as best as we can during this time. We also recognize the importance of creating venues to hear from you. As such, we are establishing a weekly departmental virtual Town Hall, in which we can provide a forum for all of our providers and trainees to discuss issues that are impacting their work, to ask questions, and raise concerns. Dr. Dan Diekema and Dr. Manish Suneja have spearheaded this project and have set the date for our first meeting next Friday, 4/3, at 1 pm. Watch your inbox and the usual channels for the Zoom link.

InThisTogether_March2020Before I highlight specific examples, I want to express to every member of our department my deep gratitude for all of your efforts to this point. Each individual sacrifice, each act of generosity, and each extension of grace toward our patients and toward each other shows me exactly how we get through this. I want to thank Dr. Kim Staffey, our Vice Chair for Clinical Programs, for leading multiple efforts for the department, particularly in the massive undertaking of rescheduling clinic appointments for thousands of people. Dr. Staffey, Amy McDonald, all our division administrators and coordinators, and many other department personnel worked very closely with the University of Iowa Health Care’s Patient Access Center to identify and reschedule, when clinically appropriate, follow-up appointments and elective procedures. Dr. Staffey has also led the charge in identifying volunteers to staff our telemedicine and influenza-like illness (ILI) clinics. These had a dramatic effect at reducing on-site burden and potential clinic spread of COVID-19 by moving these patient encounters to video visits. She tells me that 40 providers within the department have jumped into the breach and taken on these face-to-face and telemedicine encounters. Two others have offered to work on inpatient services to provide relief to our hospitalists on the frontlines. Though the need might be currently satisfied for now, please continue to make yourselves available and adaptable as the needs shift. Thank you as well to yesterday’s Grand Rounds presenters, to Lori Strommer for diligence in quickly untangling some technical issues, and to the attendees for their patience. That presentation is available for viewing. We have also seen remarkable efforts from our community members with donations of everything from food to critical PPE, as local manufacturers construct face shields or turn their 3D printers over to desperately needed components. Their gifts show that we are not in this fight alone. We are all in this together.

Many of our faculty also play major roles in national organizations. I can say from personal experience, interacting with other chairs of medicine across the country as part of the leadership of the APM and with the broader endocrinology community globally in my capacity as president of the Endocrine Society, that there has been a mobilization of cooperation, support, and information generously exchanged in the spirit of helping all of us to manage during this pandemic. We have also had to make the hard decisions to cancel our professional and scientific meetings in multiple disciplines after months of planning and coordination. For example, the Midwest Cystic Fibrosis Consortium was to return to Iowa City after a year away and would have been an impressive gathering of the nation’s top pulmonary researchers and clinicians. Dr. Mary Beth Fasano took office as president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology with a hopeful message, delivered online after the cancellation of their annual meeting. Next week, I will film my outgoing message as president of the Endocrine Society instead of delivering it in person at the Endocrine Society’s annual international meeting. Next week, Dr. Mike Welsh was set to receive the prestigious Association of American Physicians (AAP) George M. Kober Medal at the joint meeting of the AAP, the American Society of Clinical Investigation, and the American Physician Scientists Association. We all hope to celebrate this monumental recognition with Dr. Welsh for his contributions to research, discovery, and patient care when circumstances allow. All of these setbacks can be put into stark perspective when we consider the disastrous consequences avoided by not gathering so many in one place, but it’s perfectly natural to feel a little sting for a while.

tripartite diagramBut in many ways, the basic driving force of our lives remains unchanged. We are as dedicated to preserving and promoting human health as we ever were, whether we were taking care of our patients or generating new knowledge. Grant applications for future work are still being drafted, presentations are still being delivered (though, virtually) at noon conferences, manuscripts written, work published. I was pleased to see this story of one of our rheumatologists, Dr. Brittany Bettendorf, recognizing the opportunity not only to educate the medical community, but also to help one of our interns to publish. I would also like to congratulate Dr. Sam Stephens on the impressive one-two punch of his funded grants from the DOD and ADA, as he deepens our bench in the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center and in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism. The research side of our campus is very much a part of this fight as well. A special thank you to our investigators who, in light of their labs drastically reducing research activity, have donated their PPE or their time to serve as screeners at the doors of our institution.

Thank you again to everyone who has already gone to such extraordinary lengths and to those who have already begun to use the Blind Spot reporting system to offer up your ideas or suggestions for addressing the challenges that we face. As we see the storm clouds gather on the horizon, as we count the seconds between lightning and thunder, we know that when the rain comes, we will be ready. We also know that there will be calm on the other side of the storm.

About E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD

E. Dale Abel, MD PhD Francois M. Abboud Chair in Internal Medicine John B. Stokes III Chair in Diabetes Research Chair, Department of Internal Medicine Director, Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center Director, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry and Biomedical Engineering

Leave a Reply