As the days go by under the looming threat of COVID-19, Americans get to know those leading the effort to prevent the spread of what is already a pandemic. While most Indian-Americans are keeping tabs on the unfolding crisis in the nation, in India and internationally through the drumbeat of mainstream media, News India Times is tracking as many healthcare and other personnel of Indian-origin in positions of importance at the state and national level who are in this fight.
In our previous issues, we spoke to Indian-American physicians “on the frontlines” face-to-face with patients in some cases. We will try to continue tracking others as the days go by.
Dr. Monica Bharel, Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, as we watched Governor Charlie Baker announce stringent measures, the name of one such important Indian-American came to light – Monica Bharel, head of the state’s Department of Public Health.
Appointed in February 2015 by the Governor, Bharel is an alumna of the Harvard School of Public Health, and was formerly the chief medical officer at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.
Bharel’s department is responsible for regulating hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities, in addition to running a wide range of programs focused on areas such as substance abuse and infectious diseases, and now the latest challenge of Coronavirus.
“Monica has an electric personality,” Jim O’Connell, president of Health Care for the Homeless, was quoted saying in a Boston Globe article back on Dec. 24, 2014, adding, “She is focused, and about as committed and compassionate as anyone you would ever know, and has a lightning-quick mind.”
That should give the people of Massachusetts to breath somewhat better knowing that the chief physician of the Commonwealth has previously led other crises, even if they were not similar to COVID-19.
According to the state government website, Dr. Bharel “helps lead the state’s aggressive response to the opioid crisis and is dedicated to reducing health disparities and developing data-driven, evidence-based solutions for keeping people healthy.”
Nearly 3,000 employees work at MDPH. Since she came into office, the Department was awarded national accreditation by the Public Health Accreditation Board and, in 2017, Massachusetts was named the healthiest state in the nation by America’s Health Rankings Annual Report which cited among other measures, the state’s low prevalence of obesity and high vaccination rates.
She also succeeded in bringing down the incidence of opioid overdose deaths following multiple new initiatives; Dr. Bharel spearheaded creation of the Public Health Data Warehouse in 2017, a unique state-of-the-art tool involving multiple linked data sets across state government which has proved “invaluable” in the opioid epidemic garnering national attention as a model for the use of data to better understand complex health issues, the MPHD said.
She has a Master of Public Health degree from Harvard, and a medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine. She completed a residency and chief residency in internal medicine at Boston City Hospital/Boston Medical Center.
Dr. Raj Mody, Minnesota
In Minnesota, the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division Medical Director is Dr. Raj Mody.
Dr. Mody is a CDC Epidemiologist assigned to the Minnesota Department of Health where he serves as the Medical Director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division. Previously, he worked in infectious disease positions at CDC, first joining the agency in 2007. He trained in pediatrics and internal medicine at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Mody is a representative on the CHAIN Leadership council (CHAIN- Contact, Help, Advice and Information Networks for Effective Health Care).
Dr. Mody is an invited member of the National Ebola Training and Education Center’s (NETEC) research network and participates in NETEC working group on high consequence infectious disease screening, according to his own account. At the CDC, he was a team lead in the agency’s Enteric Disease and Mycotic Diseases branches where he led numerous outbreak investigations and enhanced surveillance systems, he says. Dr. Mody has certificates in hospital epidemiology training through the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.
Dr. Rahul Sharma, New York
Another young Indian-American physician quoted in mainstream media is Dr. Rahul Sharma, emergency physician-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.
In August 2019, Dr. Sharma was named a “Top 25 Innovator” in the healthcare industry by Modern Healthcare in its inaugural list which recognizes executives who are initiating and leading transformation across the healthcare industry.
“Dr. Sharma is a true innovator who recognized early the potential of digital tools to transform care,” Daniel Barchi, group senior vice president and chief information officer of NewYork-Presbyterian, is quoted saying on the Weill Cornell website. “His visionary use of telemedicine and strong leadership has advanced the delivery of emergency medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian, significantly reducing wait times and enhancing the patient experience.”
According to the hospital website, Dr. Sharma oversees operational activities for the emergency departments at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital.
In the time of Coronavirus, Dr. Sharma’s leadership of the Emergency Department’s telemedicine program, ED Telehealth Express Care, could be critical to dealing with overload from potential epidemic cases. It was honored by the College of Emergency Physicians Scientific Assembly in Washington, D.C. when he created it.
When the nation is looking to spread telemedicine around the country, Dr. Sharma’s innovations are front and center. He also helped lead the development of other NYP OnDemand services, which include second opinions, pre-and-post follow-up doctor’s appointments, peer to peer consults between physicians, and digital urgent care where patients can access emergency medicine physicians through a live video chat, including at pharmacy self-service kiosks in New York City. Since NYP OnDemand’s launch, NewYork-Presbyterian has helped patients through 400,000 virtual encounters across 80 services, Weill Cornell said.
Dr. Kami Kandola, Northwest Territories, Canada
Across the northern border, Indo-Canadian physicians are also making their mark. One of them is Chief Public Health Officer of Northwest Territories, Dr. Kami Kandola.
Her latest announcement March 19, as this went to press, related to returning international travelers to the province. They are now required to self-isolate for 14 days, regardless if they have symptoms or not.
This March 18, on Dr. Kandola’s directions and advice, the Northwest Territories Minister of Health and Social Services Diane Thom, declared a “public health emergency.” For the time being, the emergency is only till April 1.
“The purpose of calling an emergency is to allow the Chief Public Health Officer to take strong, binding actions to protect all Northwest Territories residents, and swiftly respond to the daily-evolving needs of the healthcare system as it tackles a pandemic,” the press release from the province, said.
“At this time, Dr. Kandola is focusing efforts on controlling the spread over the next 60 days. This is the most crucial period as the territory works to slow spread, flatten the curve, and keep our residents safe,” the announcement said.
The emergency gives Dr. Kandola expanded powers to authorize qualified people to provide additional aid and services as needed; expedite emergency licensing of additional health care providers; make orders and provide directions restricting or prohibiting travel to or from any area within the Northwest Territories;coordinate and provide for the delivery of medical services;and procure and provide for the distribution of medical supplies and equipment across the NWT.
This list is only a drop in the ocean of how Indian-American physicians are influencing the conduct of the war against COVID-19.