The Anschutz Medical Campus hosted a panel that was live-streamed via Zoom and posted on YouTube on Friday, April 17, to discuss COVID-19 and efforts on our campus to provide care, to research potential treatments, and to help our community understand the beneficial impact of the social distancing measures that have been in place to limit the spread of the disease. Joining me on the panel, which was moderated by Chancellor Don Elliman, were Michelle Barron, MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases; Jonathan Samet, MD, MS, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health; and Thomas Flaig, MD, vice chancellor for research. The 45-minute event allowed us to share information about how the Anschutz Medical Campus community is rallying to respond to this pandemic.
Our campus is a shining example of what academic medical centers achieve. In this pandemic, which is the most severe of our lifetime, our campus has been able to deliver the best care based on evidence that has been developed over decades. Our faculty and our hospital partner, UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, are the preferred destination for the sickest patients with this illness, handling the most COVID-19 cases and the most-difficult cases in the state.
We already had a head-start in working on treatments because we have long-established partnerships with government funding agencies and industry. We also have built a clinical-trial infrastructure that could respond quickly to test potential treatments. We have the largest physician practice in the state of Colorado, who in usual times, in addition to being top clinicians, are using their talents to teach a new generation of medical professionals, to run laboratories, and to manage School of Medicine daily activities and long-term strategies. In an instant, those professionals were able to bolster our already robust clinical labor force.
It was a privilege to represent you during the panel and I am confident our School community has been making significant contributions that make Colorado healthier, safer, and ready to face the challenging days ahead. During the panel, Michelle noted that, among other reasons, she is at an academic medical center because she has hope. That is an important distinction that relates to all our efforts. We measure and count and test and re-test and count again and always chase the data to compile the best evidence, but what gives all that work its extra value is the great immeasurable element of hope. It’s based on confidence that what we’re doing makes a difference.
At the beginning of Friday’s panel, Don mentioned that since the beginning of this crisis our campus has received communications of support from some 1,800 people and, among those, about 500 have contributed more than $2 million to support the team on our campus. We are extraordinarily grateful for that generous support.
We have witnessed many expressions of community support toward health care providers and the Anschutz Medical Campus in recent weeks, whether it is the nightly howl or an appropriately distanced neighborhood parade that a neighbor shared with Mark Earnest, MD, PhD, head of the Division of General Internal Medicine. Law enforcement officers from multiple departments recently paid tribute to Cody Lyster, the 21-year-old son of CU Anschutz Medical Campus police officer Kevin Lyster, with a procession down the family’s street. Cody is the youngest person in Colorado to die of the virus. In Colorado Springs, six of our third-year medical students took a break last Thursday to draw chalk art on the sidewalks of Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs. On Colfax Avenue in Denver, an artist painted a mural on a building of a masked medical professional wearing angel wings and boxing gloves. While we remain busy and focused on the difficult responsibilities we bear, it is healthy to remind ourselves that the community we serve is showing us its support.
Marc Moss, MD, professor of medicine and head of the Division of Pulmonary Sciences & Critical Care, has studied burnout among health care professionals. He was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article Saturday explaining that the community shows of support are important to medical professionals, notably the critical care workers who are facing some of the most stressful times of their careers. “Does it feel good when you hear the 8 p.m. howl? Of course it does,” he said. “It’s nice to feel recognized and like you’re part of a broader community.”
The number of cases of COVID-19 and deaths attributed to it have continued to rise in Colorado, but the pace of growth appears to be slowing down. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported Sunday that there were 9,730 cases and 422 deaths. The number of patients in our affiliated hospitals has remained relatively constant during the past week. The current state could be described as stable, but not normal. We must not risk a flare-up of infections by relaxing the mitigation measures that have helped limit the outbreak in Colorado.
An important revelation in the data that has been released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is that the burden of this disease is disproportionately borne by communities of color. CDPHE announced in a news release last week that the percentage of cases is statistically higher for Hispanic, Black/African American, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Coloradans compared to the overall population distribution. The data is consistent with outbreaks in other states. In New York City, data shows people who are Hispanic are more than twice as likely to die from the coronavirus as Caucasians. And in Chicago, 70 percent of the people dying from the coronavirus are black, but just 29 percent of the city’s population is. Shanta Zimmer, MD, senior associate dean for education and associate dean for diversity and inclusion, explained in a news report that the social determinants of health are contributing to the disparity and that we have a responsibility to address those. “The healthcare system needs to not forget that we saw this stark disparity and make changes to address it going forward,” she said. “We need to make sure that no sectors of our population are left behind.”
The Colorado Program for Patient Centered Decisions has developed a critical decision aid for patients considering life support at a time of COVID-19. Decision aids provide information about treatment options for patients to discuss with their health care providers. Dan Matlock, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Geriatrics, leads the program, which is part of the Adult & Child Consortium for Health Outcomes Research & Delivery Science, or ACCORDS. This COVID-19 Decision Aid is available for any medical provider to download/customize and use to help their patient/families. While it does not substitute for a full advance directive, this tool is an aid to ask about patient preferences in the setting of critical resources shortages. For more information, contact Dan at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org.
National economic data released last week continued in alarming directions, showing a catastrophic decline in sales at retailers and yet another devastating increase in the number of unemployment claims. We at the School of Medicine are not exempt from the fallout, and the administrative and financial managers in our departments must now contend with the issues raised by these trends. Our team is looking at ways to limit costs in the near term, while we also must plan a budget for next year that will most likely see a decline in revenues. Because state lawmakers are on hiatus due to the pandemic until mid-May, there won’t be clarity on the state budget until then. University leadership briefed the CU Board of Regents last Thursday on university operations and budgets.
Condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Edward Lewin, MD, professor emeritus of neurology, who died Thursday, April 9. Ed graduated from CU and then Washington University School of Medicine and completed his medical training in neurology at Johns Hopkins and Boston City Hospital, followed by a stint as an Air Force physician in California and Texas. He and his wife, Jackie, then moved to Denver, where Ed spent his career at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Denver VA Medical Center, where he was chief of neurology. Ed and Jackie endowed the Ruler-Lewin Family Professorship, which was first held by current Chair of Neurology Ken Tyler, MD, who remembers Ed as a gracious friend and mentor who shared memories of Ken’s father because they crossed paths during their training.
Thank you again to all who are putting in extra effort at this challenging time. Remember to take care of yourself so that you are in the best condition to take care of others. Here are websites with information and resources for members of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus community:
School of Medicine COVID-19 Informational Resources: https://som.ucdenver.edu/COVID-19
Coronavirus Research Guidance: https://www.cuanschutz.edu/coronavirus/research-guidance
Anschutz Medical Campus updates: https://www.cuanschutz.edu/coronavirus
Division of Infectious Diseases: https://medschool.cuanschutz.edu/infectious-diseases/information/ncov
Department of Psychiatry: https://medschool.cuanschutz.edu/psychiatry/covid-19-support
Health and Wellness: https://anschutzwellness.com/resources/
Have a good week,
John J. Reilly, Jr., MD
Richard D. Krugman Endowed Chair
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and
Dean, School of Medicine
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