Dean's Update

January 15, 2021 - Aron Sousa, MD


As I watch the political crisis and the pandemic reach historic crescendos at a national level, I want to make sure we focus on what we are doing locally to keep people safe and healthy. Even as more and more people are vaccinated, we need to continue to wear our masks, spatially distance, and wash our hands. And, I hope any demonstrations are peaceful and safe.

Last spring, I was on service when armed protesters entered the statehouse. That event was a generally peaceful protest against the state’s pandemic response. Sparrow, where I was rounding, is right down the street from the Michigan State Capitol. It was pretty frightening to see armed people going up and down Michigan Ave., and many of our students, residents, and faculty live within walking distance of the statehouse.

The FBI reports concerns about armed protests this weekend and into next week, and we all recall the plot to kidnap the governor. Please stay away from the Capitol and away from protests. Any community could be beset by demonstrations that take an angry turn, and if it is not safe to go out, please stay home. Across the state and across our system, we are treating this like our bad weather policies – if it is not safe to go out, do not go out. Obviously, some of our faculty who do emergency and acute care will have to find a way to hospitals even if things take a turn for the worse. Please be careful.

We continue to have more and more people vaccinated even while national death rates reach record levels. Medical students in each of our communities are being vaccinated, and our students are stepping up as our clinical partners are asking for more help in the vaccination of the general public. And our saliva testing program is now mandatory for our MS1 and MS2 students. We are starting a multi-part story on the people behind the Early Detection Program – this is a real point of pride for the college.

There are just a lot of stressful events right now, and our wellness team has put together some additional wellness sessions. Times are difficult, and we hope to be helpful.

This week, our Chair of Family Medicine, Bengt Arnetz, announced he will be stepping down as chair May 31, 2021, and will shift his main focus to his research. Dr. Arnetz has led growth of the department’s research program, bringing the department into the top 20 of the Blue Ridge NIH rankings for the first time. In 2020 our students made family medicine residency their number one choice, selected by 19.3% of all graduating students. This is among the highest percentage in the country and an impressive achievement of the department and its partners. Dr. Arnetz has also been a strong advocate for changing the economic philosophy of our clinical programs from fee-for-service to population health and has been a great partner for quality improvement with hospital partners. He has worked to turn around long-standing financial losses in family medicine’s clinical practice resulting in a small surplus in FY20. I want to offer my deep thanks and appreciation for his work as chair of the department. I plan to meet with department faculty in the near future to discuss a search. I hope we can set a search that will conclude before Dr. Arnetz steps away from the role with the goal of avoiding an interim chair.

Next week is the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy. The college is part of a multi-college celebration with our own Debra Furr-Holden as one of the speakers on the topic of racism as a public health crisis. Given the year of deadly racial health disparities and inequity, racist police violence, and the recent insurrection, there will be much on which to reflect.

Injustice extends to economics as well. It turns out that women are bearing the brunt of job losses. (I have now linked to my first Marie Claire article, but you should also read the interesting, original work from CNN.) While all kinds of folks lost jobs in December, the net change for men was up 16,000 jobs while women net a loss of 156,000 jobs. In the end the net change in jobs in December 2020 was a loss of 140,000 jobs and the net decrease was accounted for entirely by women. Since February 2020, women have lost a million more jobs than men. Unemployment rates are highest for Hispanic women (9.1%) and Black women (8.4%) compared with white women (5.7%). There is a reason the 1963 march in Washington, DC was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Wear your mask, wash your hands, stay home if you are sick, spatially distance, and get vaccinated when you can.

Serving the people with you,

Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean

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