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Louisiana physicians reflect on unity, collaboration and resources shared throughout COVID-19 weekly calls

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Orleans and Jefferson Parish Medical Societies hosted 7 weekly 'COVID-19 All-Physician UPDATE' teleconferences for more than 1,000 registrants.

NEW ORLEANS, LA, June 7, 2020 - From March 24th to May 5th, Jefferson and Orleans Parish Medical Societies hosted weekly ‘COVID-19 All-Physician UPDATE’ teleconferences. JPMS and OPMS presidents, Tanya Busenlener, MD, and Juan J. Gershanik, MD, invited 23 experts from the Louisiana Department of Health, the New Orleans Health Department, LSU School of Medicine, Tulane University School of Medicine, the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Ochsner Health, and LCMC Health to provide physicians with the most updated information about COVID-19 and an opportunity to ask questions. Through member emails, social media and word-of-mouth, the organizations invited physicians from throughout the state to participate. More than 1,000 registered. Many participated in several calls, and others sat in on all seven.

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“Thanks to the commitment of the citizens of our region and the dedication and sacrifice of front-line healthcare workers, political and healthcare leaders and the many physicians that participated on these calls, our region has become the example to the world on how to effectively ‘flatten the curve’ and reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Busenlener. “I’m happy we were able to provide this resource for our peers.”

Dr. Busenlener and Dr. Gershanik helped to recruit 23 panelists to share their knowledge and experience with other physicians throughout this most challenging time.

“Founded in 1878, OPMS has demonstrated a long history of serving our physician colleagues and the New Orleans community dating all the way back to the yellow fever epidemic,” said Dr. Gershanik. “Our partnership with JPMS expands our reach and allows our organizations to build collaboration with physicians and healthcare leaders to better serve the medical needs of a much broader geographic area. I am proud of the impact of our weekly calls in helping our colleagues to effectively treat patients while reducing the spread of coronavirus.”

With help from moderator Susan D’Antoni, Dr. Busenlener and Dr. Gershanik hosted all seven of the teleconferences, which averaged anywhere from 200 to 400 participants.

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“On March 9th a gentlemen residing in the Region One area was diagnosed with COVID-19, the first such identified case in Louisiana. Within two short weeks, epidemiological projections painted a nightmare scenario: patients requiring inpatient-level care exceeding existing hospital capacity by 2,000 beds, patients requiring mechanical ventilation exceeding existing ventilator supply by a factor of 2-3, and local physicians being asked to provide acute care well beyond their trained specialty,” said Joseph Kanter, MD, assistant state health officer, Louisiana Department of Health. “Despite experiencing the fastest start to a COVID-19 outbreak worldwide, and due largely to effective social distancing and a rapid increase in acute-care capacity, this scenario was thankfully avoided.”

Dr. Kanter served as the featured speaker on six calls, providing physicians with weekly updates on the number of cases, anticipated diagnostic and treatment modalities and needs based on data. In addition, Dr. Kanter appeared almost daily on television and radio news segments providing COVID-19 updates and ‘Flatten-The-Curve’ tips for the community.

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Jennifer Avegno, MD, medical director at the New Orleans Health Department, added: “I've learned that pandemics require good understanding of the underlying science and data, but the flexibility to refine or revise course when it changes. We know so little about the virus and must make life-changing decisions based on all the information we have at a particular time,” said Dr. Avegno, who served as the featured speaker on the April 14th call. “Having the humility to admit we don't know everything and the fortitude to keep studying and understanding is key to the practice of medicine during this time.”

New Orleans' Mayor Latoya Cantrell rarely appeared on her special daily news updates without Dr. Avegno at her side, providing updates and coaching the NOLA community on how to prevent the virus from spreading.

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March 31st speaker John S. Schieffelin, M.D., M.S.P.H., (above) said: “New information about the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming available daily and healthcare providers of all specialties need to know how to care for these patients and how to best keep themselves and their staff safe,” added Dr. Schieffelin, who serves as associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine, sections of infectious disease at Tulane University School of Medicine. “These teleconferences have proven to be a great way to share ideas and research data.”

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According to David Janz, MD, MSc, assistant profession of medicine, pulmonary/critical care and allergy/immunology at LSU Health Sciences Center: “SARS-CoV-2 is a novel coronavirus that causes critical illness syndromes not at all novel to the intensive care community. Intensivists have many evidence-based tools at their disposal to support and treat patients with COVID-19,” added Dr. Janz, who presented and answered questions on the April 7th and April 28th calls. “Implementing these evidence-based ICU practices will improve outcomes in patients with COVID-19 and also increase our ventilator and ICU bed capacity.”

Dahlene Fusco, MD, PhD, (below) who appeared on the April 14th and May 5th calls added: “From the COVID-19 pandemic experience, I have learned that we have a major public health need to pre-emptively explain clinical trials to the Greater NOLA community, in every major language used in this community. We are not out of the crisis yet, and cannot be assured that cases won't increase again next winter.
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"We have post-exposure and preventive clinical trials about to start opening, and must work with our entire NOLA community to prepare to 1) understand the need for research in our community to identify best countermeasures, 2) make the most informed decisions possible regarding trial enrollment,” said Dr. Fusco, who serves as assistant professor of medicine, adjunct assistant professor of tropical medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine. “We will not find best preventives without research, so our community needs to be informed of and engaged in this research to the absolute best of our ability.”

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Dr. Gershanik (pictured right with Dr. Avegno) added, “The leadership role of Dr. Kanter was invaluable, as was the collaboration among physicians and faculty of our major healthcare systems and teaching institutions -- like LSU, Tulane, Ochsner, LCMC and the New Orleans Health Department. In fact, the clinical trials being conducted by many of these Louisiana healthcare leaders are at the forefront of the world research of the pandemic,” said Dr. Gershanik. “Most that volunteered their precious time to provide updates, guidance and answer questions were the warriors on the front lines of this crisis.”

“I am proud of how the physician community of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes showed leadership in the face of this unprecedented challenge. I believe the unified medical front exhibited during the early weeks of our COVID-19 outbreak provided a powerful amplification of public health messaging and promoted resilience to our patient community,” said Dr. Kanter. “In the weeks since, the New Orleans region has received accolades for ‘flattening the curve’ in a manner few other areas have been able to accomplish, and I am thankful to the medical community for the role played in this.”

Other panelists that provided information, updates and answered questions from their peers throughout the seven weekly teleconferences included: Courtney Phillips, PhDMarcus Bachhuber, MD, Louisiana Department of Health; Lee Engel, MD, PhDJulio Figueroa, MDMeredith Clement, MD, LSU Health Sciences Center; Gregory Sossaman, MD, MSPHJon "Michael" Cuba, MD, FACEP, FAAEMKatherine L. Baumgarten, MD, Julia Garcia-Diaz, MD, of Ochsner HealthStacy Drury, MD, PhD, of Tulane University School of Medicine; Sonia Malhotra, MD, MS, FAAP, of Tulane and LSU School of Medicine; and Thomas LaVeist, PhDJohn Barry, MPH, Tulane University School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine, and Katherine Williams, MD, president of Louisiana State Medical Society.

“The significant engagement of the regional medical community in the COVID-19 Physician Calls demonstrated the need for timely, comprehensive, and critical updates from public health authorities and medical specialists in the trenches who were testing and caring for patients with the virus,” said Susan D’Antoni. “The speakers are the absolute best in their fields of critical care, infectious diseases, emergency medicine, pathology and infection control. We are fortunate to have their expertise to draw on during this crisis.”

Understandably, some physicians who had registered with every intention of participating were often called away to tend to COVID-19 patients and other related challenges. OPMS and JPMS sent links of teleconference recordings to anyone that registered throughout the seven weeks. Members of the two organizations were sent links to recordings of the calls upon request, whether they had registered or not. 

Orleans Parish Medical Society and Jefferson Parish Medical Society work in partnership to best serve physicians and their patients. For additional information and to enroll as a member, visit OPMS.org and JPMS.org

 

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WHEN IT COMES TO PROVIDING HEALTHCARE, no region in the country has dealt with more unique environmental, sociological, and cultural challenges than those experienced by the Greater New Orleans area. Poverty, crime, drug addiction, teen pregnancy, low levels of education, and natural disaster have plagued it for decades. Hurricane Katrina caused a major brain drain in the medical community, and yet there are over two thousand physicians replenishing the area. Poor health indicators, including a high smoking rate, morbid obesity, and alcoholism, contribute to the high incidence of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and mental health issues.