Congressman Dr. Ami Bera, D-California, one of 17 physicians serving on Capitol Hill, says he is ready to swing into action treating patients, if his state requires it. Meanwhile, he is urging lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to work together to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, and not indulge in partisan faultfinding.
“I keep my license active and should California need for us to come back, I’ll be back on deck,” Dr. Bera told News India Times in an April 8, 2020 interview.
Meanwhile, Dr. Janine Bera, his wife is in the thick of it, as the Chief Medical Officer for a health system that controls 17 community health centers, which are gearing up for yet another influx of COVID-19 patients, Dr. Bera said.
Rep. Bera, an internal medicine doctor who served for 20 years in the Sacramento area including as Chief Medical Officer of the county, also praised the Indian-American community of physicians who make up close to 100,000 doctors, and add to that other healthcare workers and medical students.
“Indian-origin physicians have filled critical workflow gaps,” in the healthcare workforce in the U.S., he noted, “We must also recognize that many Indian-Americans are aging out, and that many are in medical school. This is a good time to look at creating more (residency) slots,” to fill the gap created by aging out, he emphasized.
Dr. Bera is one of five Indian-Americans elected officials, four in the House and 1 in the Senate. He is the only physician among these five. He joins a very small coterie of 3 Democratic legislators who are doctors and 14 Republican physicians in the halls of Congress.
Among his other committee assignments over the years since he began service in 2013, Bera is also a former Co-Chair of the Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus, the only bipartisan group of its kind in Washington, where both Republicans and Democrats attempt to find common ground on critical issues. He is currently a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he serves as Chair of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation. He is also Vice Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
At home in his hometown Elk Grove, with his wife Janine, also a physician, and their daughter Sydra who has returned from the East Coast to be with family, Dr. Bera said he is busy discussing a national strategy against the virus with colleagues over the phone, and also keeping in close touch with his constituents in District 7, which lies entirely within Sacramento County.
He praised California Governor Gavin Newsome for moving quickly to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the state. “That early leadership created some breathing room,” for things like building hospitals and capacity to deal with the highly contagious and sometimes deadly virus.
“As a doctor and your Member of Congress, my number one priority is keeping Sacramento County families safe and healthy,” his website says, giving his office number for people to call.
Even before the virus had a name, Congressman Bera chaired the first hearing on coronavirus back on Feb. 5, as the New York Times also noted. Bera was an early harbinger of the need for a nationally coordinated response and keeps up that drum beat today. He held two more hearings after that,
He is pushing for a “national testing strategy” and joined by several other lawmakers, sent a bipartisan letter April 8, to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar,
“As a doctor, I strongly urge the Administration to prioritize the creation of a national testing strategy, including the rapid and widespread deployment of serologic and diagnostic testing, ” said Rep. Bera in a statement and repeated that call during his News India Times interview. . “Only with a national testing strategy will we be able to help states and communities identify who is infected and who may be immune, which will allow our country to soon get back on a road to economic recovery.” He is also calling for establishing public health workforce that would be used to conduct widespread contact tracing and to administer vaccines when available.”
As far back as in 2018, Congressman Bera, along with Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, appear to have made a prescient prediction, he now says he did not wish needed to be made. They urged then National Security Advisor John Bolton to reverse the decision to disband the global health office in the White House National Security Council.
“We urge you to reconsider the demotion of the global health security portfolio and reject the proposal to rescind Ebola contingency funds,” the letter said, adding, “Saving lives from the next global pandemic starts with investing in preparedness before it strikes.”
And prophetically, the letter went on to say, “We fear these recent decisions will leave the United States vulnerable to pandemics and commit us to a strategy of triage should one occur.”
The U.S. had helped launch the Global Health Security Agenda and committed $1 billion to support countries and strengthen implementation of the important international health regulations. In 2017, the U.S. and 50 other countries agreed to extend the GHSA to strengthen data sharing, preparedness planning, surveillance capacity, risk assessment, and response to biological threats.
But Congressman Bera indicates this is not the time for Monday morning quarterbacking.
“There will be enough time later to look at how things transpired and what was done. Right now I would urge the President, we need a national recovery strategy, not 50 states doing their own thing,” Rep. Bera said.
Asked what he feels about the future of his family, his constituents and the nation, Dr. Bera said, “I am vigilant, but also see the importance of working together, not as a Democrat or Republican. This requires all of us to come together as Americans – and we will get through this.”