College of
Human
Medicine

Dean's Update | July 9, 2021

Friends,

As dedicated readers of my updates will know, I am in the midst of two weeks of hospital service. Helping residents care for patients in the hospital is one of the best parts of my job – being with the patients and their families is emotionally very meaningful, occasionally I am useful to the residents (update – my team is really good!), I find caring for sick people intellectually challenging and satisfying, I get a taste of what our faculty do day in and day out, and being with people when they or their family members are sick is a privilege and recenters me.

On rounds this week I ran into a member of the CHM diaspora, who is now a hospital administrator, and I asked how things were going. Their answer was, “now that COVID has calmed down, we are dealing with issues we have not had time or energy to work on, and it is hard.” I am pretty sure this administrator was talking about human resource issues, but I think the concept of struggle emerging from behind a wall of COVID is broader than HR challenges.

For the last 16 months, my time on service has been dominated by COVID-19 even when we were not swamped by patients with COVID-19. We had new protocols to learn and supervise; we spent a lot of time making sure our team had the right PPE; we cared for COVID patients who had unfamiliar and unpredictable disease courses; and it felt like our focus needed to be on keeping beds open for a surge of new COVID-19 patients.

This week, our service has no COVID-19 patients, and we are focusing on other more chronic, harder struggles. We have patients who need treatment for sleep apnea, insurance requires a sleep study but only covers outpatient sleep studies. We can’t get them what they need before they leave the hospital, so they may be readmitted for the same problem, when they will face the same problem. It is a circle of struggle. We have patients with mental health issues intertwined in the criminal justice system; patients with mental health issues, which lead to housing insecurity, which makes caring for their potentially deadly chronic condition almost impossible, which leads them to enter a cycle of admission and discharge for which our health/social system is woefully inadequate. These are the real challenges of life, and the solutions are in systems of care and political work rather than medical care. In some ways COVID-19 laid bare disparities and inequity, and in other ways COVID-19 distracted us from longstanding, hard challenges.

I am sad to say that Kate Lax is stepping away from CHM Advancement to spend more time with her family and to focus on her health. Kate has been a stalwart member of our team since 2015, and today is her last day in the office. There is a special place in my heart for Kate. First, she is an absolute peach of a person, but beyond that, she completely had my back when I needed it. As Marsha left the dean’s office in 2015, so did most of the Advancement Office. So as I became interim dean the previous time and we were trying to raise money for the GRRC, the advancement team was just Kate and I. We had help from others in the university (thank you, Stephanie!), but basically it was just the two of us trying to pick up some pieces and help Dr. Mona during the Flint Water Crisis. With help from our friends, the college raised about $20 million for the GRRC and had a fair amount of success in other projects that year. Kate is great to work with, has a genuine passion for our college, and she is always game for a challenge. I will miss going on visits with her, and I am happy CHM Advancement Director Stephanie Stotenbur has made Kate an “Honorary A-Team Member for Life.” I give my deepest thanks and appreciation to Kate and her family and look forward to seeing them all at college events in the future. Take a moment and send Kate your best wishes and appreciation.

A few reminders:

  • The university is hosting a graduation celebration for 2020 advanced degree grads in September – this includes our PhD, MA, MS, and MPH graduates but not the MD grads. Our 2020 MD graduates are invited to join us at the Spring 2022 graduation when we plan to do our usual commencement celebration.
  • We are organizing an in-person White Coat Ceremony in August at DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids. More details are to follow.
  • And, a reminder that the college is requiring that only vaccinated students will be assigned clinical activity beginning in August with the arrival of our new ECE students with exceptions for medical contraindications.

We are moving toward more people working in offices as the summer turns into fall. It looks like there are more cars in the parking lot, so I think more people are coming into the office. Remember to make your first day back in the office a day that you do not need everything to work. Computers that have not been used in months can spend a long time updating, and computers that have not been in the office in a long time have to be re-registered. I came to the office and expected to run a Zoom meeting ten minutes later. That did not work out, so learn from my experience, and make sure everything is working on a day you have some flexibility.

Our people have worked incredibly hard on issues related to the pandemic over the last 16 months. For these few weeks in high summer our cases are down, and I hope you get something of a break and some time with loved ones. Get some rest, take a nap, hug a loved one, and encourage people to get vaccinated. Now that the delta variant is the dominant virus in parts of the US, I think we can expect to see cases move through unvaccinated groups as we come into fall. More than 95% of physicians are vaccinated, the vaccines are remarkably safe, and so far, the vaccines in the US effectively prevent infection and serious illness from COVID-19 including the delta variant. Vaccination is how we get something like normal life back. To protect yourself and your loved ones, get vaccinated and encourage others to be vaccinated as well.

Serving the people with you,

Aron

Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean