Dean's Weekly Message

June 1, 2020

Dear colleague: 

The process of reopening the Anschutz Medical Campus continues. The campus check-in procedures have been operating efficiently and effectively. A limited number of lab personnel were invited to return to campus beginning May 26 and more than 600 people were going through the check-in process each day. This daily process includes completing a health questionnaire online, wearing your CU Anschutz badge and a mask, and getting a temperature check and picking up a wristband at a check-in point.

The daily process requires some extra steps, but these are not onerous. In fact, the amount of time it takes is minimal in comparison to the benefit to our campus. I have gone through this process every day I am on campus and it takes just a few seconds. I would like to note that it is largely staffed by faculty and staff colleagues who are volunteering for shifts to make sure we can reopen sooner rather than later. Thanks to all who have stepped forward to make this important contribution to the effort.

Many principal investigators have asked that more members of their lab teams be allowed to return to campus. Because our first steps at reopening have been successful, we are planning to move ahead with invitations to additional researchers. That is not a green light for everyone to return to campus tomorrow. Because we must ensure a safe and productive workspace, we need a well-considered and methodical return-to-campus process.

To proceed, individual laboratories need to work with the COVID officer assigned to their floor. Together, they must develop a plan that ensures that the space and their floor is never too crowded. To maximize the number of people who are able to return to work at lab benches, we will need to allow shifts that spread occupancy throughout the day and even the weekends.

After that individual plan is developed, it will need to be reviewed by the University’s research administration, occupational health and safety team, campus security, and facilities management to ensure that the individual piece fits into a safe overall plan.

Bottom line: Our ability to succeed with reopening and getting back to work depends on you. Extraordinary safety precautions remain necessary. Wear your masks. Keep your distance. Limit your contact. Work from home on everything that can be done from home. We can do this.

Chancellor Don Elliman recorded a message that outlines the approach to reopening and our priorities of maintaining a safe and productive workplace. Details about how to return to campus and what is required once you’ve been invited back are posted on the return to campus website.

At the May 20 meeting of the National Institutes of Health’s Council of Councils, Richard Krugman, MD, Distinguished Professor of the University and former dean of the School of Medicine, explained how the interconnected relationships at our academic medical center have intensified the conditions we face. He noted that our research endeavors have been strengthened in recent years with financial support derived from the clinical work of our faculty. For more than two months, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closure of nearly all research laboratories on campus so that we could comply with public health directives that required working from home. Alone, that closure is a major blow to the work of so many of our faculty and staff. But Dick rightly points out a serious consequence of reduced clinical work that is often overlooked by policymakers: When the clinical income of our faculty decreases due to delayed elective procedures and cancelled check-ups and preventive care appointments, we cannot afford to support research programs to the same degree we have in the past. “This is a lot deeper than I think anybody has experienced in the last 50 years in academic medicine,” he said. A videocast of the NIH Council of Councils meeting is posted online and Dick’s comments are at the 3:25:30 mark of the meeting.

Kenneth Tyler, MD, chair of the Department of Neurology, was a speaker at the European Academy of Neurology (EAN) 2020 virtual meeting, which was May 23-26. Ken’s talk, “On the Neurological Complications of COVID-19,” was part of a special session co-sponsored by EAN and the American Academy of Neurology (AAN). Ken gave an overview of neurological complications of the disease. He was joined the AAN president, who talked about that organization’s response to COVID-19 and a European neurologist who talked about registries of cases that have been started. In addition to his virtual talk, Ken was also recently quoted in a National Geographic article discussing neurological complications stemming from COVID-19.

Jeffrey SooHoo, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology, has been named assistant dean of admissions in the Office of Student Life. Jeff graduated from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in 2009 and completed ophthalmology residency as well as a fellowship in glaucoma and cataracts here at CU. Jeff has been a member of the CU School of Medicine admissions committee for six years and was named its chair in 2019. Jeff has extensive experience in undergraduate and graduate medical education, and currently serves as a mentor in the Advisory Colleges Program and as residency program director in the Department of Ophthalmology. Since 2016, Jeff has also served as chief of the Division of Ophthalmology at Denver Health Medical Center. We are pleased to welcome Jeff to this important role of recruiting talented and diverse students to the School of Medicine. Thanks to the students, faculty, and staff who served on the search committee chaired by Abigail Lara, MD, associate professor of medicine and co-director of the Office of Professional Excellence.

Nancy Hadley-Miller, MD, professor of orthopedics, has been invited to become chair of the Genetics of Health and Disease Study Section for the National Institutes of Health Center for Scientific Review. The invitation is a recognition of Nancy’s lifetime of work and significant contributions to clinical care, scholarship, and education. In this video by Children’s Hospital Colorado, Nancy describes her approach to providing care and why she loves what she does. In her letter inviting  Nancy to become study section chair, Noni Byrnes, PhD, director of the Center for Scientific Review, said Nancy had demonstrated achievement “evidenced by the quality of your research accomplishments, publications in scientific journals, and other significant scientific activities, achievements and honors.” Nancy is an excellent selection for this important role.

Christina Arnold, MD, visiting associate professor of pathology, has been selected to receive a CAP Distinguished Service Award in recognition of her outstanding contribution to trainees and pathologists around the world through her leadership role in planning and executing the #CAPVirtualPath lecture series. Teresa Burgin, MBA, senior manager of marketing programs for CAP, nominated Christina for the award, saying: “the #CAPVirtualPath lecture series would have remained an idea instead of a successful program that has 8,600+ registered participants. The participants have consistently noted the positive impact this program has had on their training and how it made them feel part of the community even when they were sheltering in place at their homes.” The CAP Distinguished Service Award recognizes episodic, sustained, or cumulative contributions to the practice of pathology and to the College of American Pathologists that are sufficiently notable and extraordinary to set the nominee apart from his or her peers.

The Boettcher Foundation announced the recipients of funding for its Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Awards program and five of the eight awardees are members of the CU School of Medicine faculty. From the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, the recipients are Petter Bjornstad, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Section of Endocrinology; Suet Nee Chen, PhD, assistant research professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology; Andra Lee Dingman, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Section of Child Neurology; and Sridharan Raghavan, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Hospital Medicine; and from National Jewish Health, James Scott-Browne, PhD, assistant professor of immunology and microbiology. Recipients are awarded $235,000 in grant funding to sustain up to three years of biomedical research.

In response to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Roderick Nairn, PhD, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, has announced that School of Medicine faculty on a tenure and/or promotion clock due to school rules will have an automatic one-year stoppage of the clock. All assistant professors are included, including those who are to be reviewed next academic year (AY20-21). Assistant professors must notify their departments whether they wish to accept this time-clock stoppage in writing by Aug. 31, 2020, at the latest. Faculty members may also elect to remain on their original review schedule. Questions should be addressed to the School of Medicine’s Office of Faculty Affairs.

The University of Colorado System announced last week that José Padilla has been named vice president, university counsel, and secretary of the University of Colorado Board of Regents. He is currently vice president, general counsel, and secretary at DePaul University in Chicago. He begins his duties at CU July 6. He succeeds Patrick O’Rourke, who left in February to become interim chief operating officer of CU’s Boulder Campus.

Condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of William Buchanan, MD, a longtime volunteer faculty member of the Department of Ophthalmology, who died May 12. Bill graduated from the CU School of Medicine in 1959 and then completed his residency with the University. Bill cared for patients in Sterling from 1965 until he retired in 2016. Naresh Mandava, MD, chair of ophthalmology, said, “Dr. Buchanan was a gentle, kind, skilled, and dependable colleague who all of us will miss dearly.”

In early April, I mentioned in my campus message that ECHO Colorado has developed COVID-19 Just-In-Time ECHO For Primary Care to provide up-to-the-minute information and to answer questions about COVID-19 to support primary care practices and safety-net practices across Colorado. These sessions, created in partnership with the Department of Family Medicine and the Department of Medicine Division of General Internal Medicine, have been occurring three times a week – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays – at 7 a.m. to provide campus expertise to providers throughout the state. Lynne Jones, executive director of the Commission on Family Medicine, recently sent a note of gratitude that she asked be shared with the campus community: “I just want to thank you and the team over there for continuing to provide insightful, timely information and presenters so that those of us trying to navigate this interesting time have some well-grounded information to work from.” Mark Earnest, MD, PhD, head of the division of General Internal Medicine, added that attracting nearly 200 people to these 7 a.m. sessions proves the interest and need for the programming.

With Memorial Day last week launching the unofficial start to summer, here are a couple of suggested quick reads:

First, the medical news website STAT published an article on May 12 about an experimental procedure to implant patient-derived midbrain dopaminergic progenitor cells into a patient with Parkinson’s disease. The article tells the story of George “Doc” Lopez, MD ’73, and that pioneering surgery. In addition to being a CU School of Medicine graduate, Doc recently established the George “Doc” Lopez, MD, Distinguished Scholars Fund that provides four-year scholarships to support students from backgrounds historically underrepresented in medicine. Additional details about the procedure were published May 14 in an original article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The second piece is a Perspective column, “On Becoming a Plague Doctor,” by Mark Earnest, MD, PhD, head of the Division of General Internal Medicine in the Department of Medicine, that was published May 20 in the New England Journal of Medicine. During the Middle Ages, plague doctors wore costumes that included protective suits and beaked masks to protect themselves. “To me,” Mark writes, “the image represented the triumph of fear and superstition over the more noble impulses I hoped would drive me in a time of crisis.” Then, in March 2020, Mark found himself covered in personal protective equipment preparing to meet a patient: “I stood for the first time outside the door of a patient who I suspected had Covid-19,” he writes. “I was wearing two layers of gloves, a gown, an N95 mask, and goggles. While taking her history and examining her, I felt a wave of guilt and a sense that I was betraying something important. I was a walking hazmat suit, unrecognizable beneath heavy gear that was not for her protection but for my own.” Mark laments the loss of “the intimacy of patient care” when covered in protective garb, but also describes how being present to care for patients is paramount.

The country passed a grim milestone last week, tallying more than 100,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19, and we remain on alert for outbreaks that could cause a resurgence of cases. There were many tributes to those whose loss we mourn. Remembrances that stand out recall the names and lives of the people who have died. The New York Times on Sunday, May 24, covered its front page with a list of names of people and brief descriptions of the lives they led. The Times also used its podcast, The Daily, to chronicle lives of the famous, like singer-songwriter John Prine, and the not-so-famous.

Our nation convulsed last week in response to the killing of George Floyd on Monday, May 25, after Minneapolis police officers handcuffed Floyd and one of the officers kneeled on Floyd’s neck until he could no longer breathe. The resulting protests across the country have in many cases, including here in Denver, turned destructive with vandalism and led to curfews by local authorities. Even as we share the grief of Floyd’s family and friends, we must recommit ourselves to rid our country’s systems – health care, law enforcement, elections – of inequities that lead to such tragic and preventable outcomes. Empathy, education, listening to others are necessary and I urge everyone in our community to take more time to treat others as you would want to be treated.

Have a good week,

John J. Reilly, Jr., MD
Richard D. Krugman Endowed Chair
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and
Dean, School of Medicine

The Dean’s weekly message is an email news bulletin from John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, Dean of the CU School of Medicine, that is distributed to inform University of Colorado School of Medicine faculty members, staff, students and others about issues pertaining to the School’s mission of education, research, clinical care and community service.  See the UCH-Insider →

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