As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world this year, many of us have expressed gratitude to the men and women who are serving on the front lines.
Here at Rowland Hall, we are proud of the members of our community who have been dedicated to this work. Below, we highlight seven of our alumni who are making a difference in the fight against coronavirus. We recognize the sacrifices that they—along with thousands of others, both in our community and around the globe—are making each day, and we sincerely thank them.
Lawrence Benjamin ’07
Lawrence attended medical school in St. Louis, completed his residency in Boston, and is currently completing a fellowship—the final training for a subspecialty—in pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). This field focuses on diseases of the lungs broadly, but also oversees care in medical intensive care units (ICUs), the front lines of caring for the sickest COVID-19 patients, many of whom require a ventilator to breathe.
For a population of its size, California has, thankfully, seen lower overall rates of COVID-19 infections compared to other, harder-hit states like New York. However, Los Angeles has led the state with the majority of COVID-19 infections, accounting for approximately 45% of California’s overall confirmed cases. Lawrence rotates at four UCLA-affiliated hospitals that range in location across the city: three based in West Los Angeles, including a Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital, and a fourth county hospital in the Valley north of West Los Angeles. Lawrence has seen the great breadth of this disease, from those with milder cases who require admission to the hospital for oxygen, to the sickest patients who are on a ventilator for weeks or even months. He has, unfortunately, also seen how this virus has disproportionately affected those with preexisting conditions, communities of color, and those with less socioeconomic means to cope with the consequences of this illness. Many of these patients may work in service industries as essential workers or live with multiple working roommates, some in multifamily homes. These essential workers may have not had the luxury of being able to shelter at home or do not have the appropriate protective equipment to continue to stay safe at work and prevent them from bringing the illness home to their loved ones.
“The ramifications of these disparities have been amplified in our country's conscience,” Lawrence said. “We are all being forced to reconcile that our nation is only as strong as those who are most vulnerable. These disparities will not disappear overnight. The road is long ahead of all of us. I and my colleagues are ready to redouble our efforts in this difficult work in the months ahead, both within and outside the hospital, and hope many of our neighbors will join us.”
Molly Billings ’93
Martha (Molly) Billings, MD/MSc, is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at the University of Washington. She has been involved in the Harborview Medical Center response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Seattle as the director of the Chest Clinic, overseeing transformation of the clinic to rapidly adopt telehealth, opening a respiratory tent outside the ER, and creating a dedicated post-COVID clinic. As a medical educator, Molly has worked to adopt the training of specialists from in-person teaching to an online platform (this distance learning is very new—previously all teaching of medical students, residents, and fellows was done in person). Molly feels fortunate that Seattle’s predicted pandemic surge didn’t come to fruition, and that her hospital system has not been overwhelmed.
We are immensely appreciative of each other and our amazing colleagues, and grateful for all of you doing your part by staying home and following guidelines to prevent the spread of this unprecedented virus.—Chris Bossart ’05 and Jerica Johnson ’07
Chris Bossart ’05 and Jerica Johnson ’07
After graduating from the University of Utah School of Medicine in 2015, Chris Bossart and Jerica Johnson moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to attend the University of New Mexico (UNM). There, Chris completed residency training in emergency medicine and an additional fellowship in sports medicine, and Jerica completed residency training in family and community medicine.
Chris is currently an assistant professor at UNM’s School of Medicine as well as an assistant team physician for the Lobos. Most of his clinical time, especially during the pandemic, has been in the emergency department, both in Albuquerque and rural New Mexico. He has also volunteered his time in the ICU to help alleviate some of the stressors that plague ICUs.
Jerica is an assistant professor at UNM’s School of Medicine. She practices in an outpatient clinic focused on the care of refugees, undocumented patients, and underserved and marginalized populations. She also serves at a school-based clinic at one of the local public high schools, at a detention center with incarcerated high-risk adolescents, and at UNM Hospital as an attending physician for inpatient services and labor and delivery. During this pandemic, Jerica has continued to see outpatients, with a combination of telehealth and in-person visits. She was the first family medicine attending physician to lead a COVID-19 team comprised of confirmed COVID-19-positive patients and patients highly suspicious for COVID-19 infection.
Jeff Norris ’03
Jeff Norris is the medical director at Father Joe’s Villages, a large homeless service agency in San Diego that has been at the forefront of protecting their homeless neighbors. Jeff runs the agency’s Federally Qualified Health Center and has been directly involved in setting up mass lab testing, mass symptom screening, primary care, medication-assisted treatment, and other services for those experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Watch Jeff talk about the challenge of protecting homeless populations amid COVID-19 on PBS NewsHour.
Kelsey Oliver ’15
Kelsey recently returned to Washington, DC, after working as a communications fellow in Bamako, Mali. There, she assisted a non-governmental organization called Muso, managing film and photography storytelling of hundreds of community health workers and their patients. (Click here to view one of Kelsey’s Muso campaign videos.) Kelsey has also been working with COVID Mali, a consortium of skilled professionals—including engineers, designers, and 3D printers—to support vulnerable communities in Bamako by creating protective personal equipment and prototype medical equipment from locally available resources. More information about COVID Mali can be viewed here.
Andrew Patterson ’10
Andrew Patterson is a firefighter and emergency medical technician at the Salt Lake City Fire Department. He and his colleagues continue to respond to all calls for assistance, but now with more protective equipment than normal. Protocols have also been modified to keep firefighters and the public safe—for example, on a medical call only one person approaches the patient, if possible, and does the initial assessment. Even during the pandemic, they have continued to respond to all types of emergencies, from fires and traffic accidents to the occasional cat stuck in a tree.
At Andrew’s downtown Salt Lake City firehouse, each truck and engine is staffed with four people. Team members work 48-hour shifts, and during this time the fire station is home, so social distancing presents a unique challenge. Firefighters take their temperatures twice a day, as well as disinfect and clean all surfaces at the beginning of shifts and throughout their time at the station.
Andrew is grateful for the opportunity to serve the public in Salt Lake City, and his entire team appreciates citizens’ support of first responders.