Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles in honor of Doctors’ Day, Tuesday, March 30. The series looks at the medical family and how physicians serve as leaders in healthcare, their homes, and our community, especially during the pandemic environment.
While many words could sum up our nation’s collective experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most common ones is “wearying.”
Physicians, like all other healthcare providers, have scrambled to get personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitizers during shortages. They’ve had to put surgeries on hold, patiently waiting for the reopening of operating rooms. They’ve adjusted to communicating through masks—in addition to comforting and caring for the critically ill. Most are grateful to continue to serve and protect their patients in spite of pandemic rigors.
In the past, our local doctors and their families have reached out in additional ways to serve others, both here and abroad. Members of the Washington-Unicoi-Johnson County Medical Alliance have given time and resources over the years to support healthy lifestyles in our area.
Their efforts during the pandemic, however, have required a bit of thinking outside of the box. After in-person meetings were suspended, the Medical Alliance, under current president Cyndi Bailey, has thrown itself into supporting frontline workers by donating food, raising funds for Ronald McDonald House, and, through the organization’s Facebook page, providing the public with reliable information about COVID, the vaccine, and vaccine availability.
Alliance member Farrah Snyder, in charge of health promotions this year, wanted to honor healthcare workers in the COVID units at the Johnson City Medical Center (JCMC)—physicians, nurses, and other “unrecognized heroes” like respiratory therapists. But how? With all of the restrictions, options were limited.
“We really wanted to do something for the workers on the front lines where morale was so low at the time,” Farrah said. “So, we coordinated with the hospital to provide a meal for the night shift, to let them know they are not forgotten.”
On behalf of the Alliance, Farrah ordered 45 boxed deli meals from Jimmy John’s and delivered them to the overloaded COVID hospital wings in December when numbers were peaking. “We wanted these crews to feel supported and encouraged, knowing that their sacrifices were not overlooked,” she said. Farrah is married to Dr. Michael Snyder, an internal medicine physician with First Choice Internal Medicine.
Farrah also had to be creative beyond the usual in-person educational events that the Alliance has held in the past. She requested and received a grant from the Tennessee Medical Association Alliance to provide a much-needed dental supply cart—to support the dental care offered at the Keystone Dental Clinic, a service for the under-insured in our community.
Dr. Katrena Floyd, a past president of the Alliance, has chaired the organization’s social media communication this year, working to get accurate, professional information about COVID-19 out to the public. She is married to Dr. Nathan Floyd, a radiation oncologist with Appalachian Radiation Oncology.
“Dr. Stacey Means, who was last year’s president, ‘led by example’ for us—taking our meetings virtual, being all-in with promoting good health practices for the pandemic, personally supporting the vaccine trials, and volunteering at vaccination sites,” Katrena said.
“Our region was faced with fighting not only the spread of the virus but also the spread of misinformation,” she continued. “We were able to use our already established social media platform to become a trusted source for accurate and timely information related to the pandemic and to debunk false claims that were undermining our public health efforts.
“In the beginning of the pandemic, I focused on providing data to physicians. I knew they didn’t have time to watch an entire Ballad Health media briefing or a governor’s briefing but needed to know the key points affecting their practices.”
Katrena’s work to share official state and local clinical statistics through the Alliance’s Facebook page (WUJ Medical Alliance) generated a surprising response. “Then, one day I posted that the COVID-19 Unit at Johnson City Medical Center was full,” she said. “Within the span of a few hours, our post went viral. Our usual number of views went from a few hundred people to over 50,000. Suddenly, we were designated a high-performing page, and the Facebook platform made me prove that I was a real person, not a bot.”
At that point, she shifted her messages to an entirely different audience. “At the height of the pandemic, our 28-day reach hit nearly 170,000 people,” Katrena continued. “Now that we’ve thankfully survived the surge, our focus is on mobilizing people to get vaccinated. There’s a lot of vaccine enthusiasm among our members and followers, and we’ve connected many people with resources to get vaccinated and volunteers with opportunities to put shots in arms.”
Her advice is for people to always question the source, reliability, and intent of a social media post before clicking the “share” button. “Of course, before you take medical advice from anyone on the internet, you should consult your personal physician,” she said. “He or she knows you and your medical conditions and can better advise you than people on social media.”
Katrena also launched a Facebook fundraiser for the Alliance and public, to benefit the Ronald McDonald House in Johnson City as it hosts vulnerable families with children in the Niswonger Children’s Hospital next door. Alliance members additionally purchased home/kitchen items like crockpots, hand mixers, slippers, towels, silverware, cookbooks, and children’s books that the Ronald McDonald House staff could use in its own kitchen and give to its guests as an encouragement to them.
And, the Alliance provided funds for The River, a downtown ministry for women and children, to purchase fruit baskets during the 2020 holidays.
“I’m so proud of our physicians and Alliance members for all they do in our community,” said Cyndi Bailey, current president of the local Alliance and wife of retired cardiologist Dr. Joe Bailey. “It’s really been tough this year to accomplish our goals, with everyone hampered by the lockdown.
“But as we’ve watched our doctors and other healthcare workers rise to the occasion in their arena, going above and beyond their normal workload to fight this virus, they have inspired us to find ways to serve others in every way we can.”
Serving on the Field and at Home
Many local physicians make a habit of donating their time and expertise on the mission field, venturing into desolate areas of the world where healthcare is scarce. When COVID began to spread across the globe, all international travel screeched to a halt, canceling many planned trips.
Such was the case for Dr. Curt Barnes, an orthopaedic surgeon in the department of surgery at the Veterans Administration Hospital. Curt was ready to take a medical crew into the swampy rainforest of Nicaragua last May with Global Health Outreach (GHO), part of the Christian Medical and Dental Association, until this trip became another casualty of COVID.
“I had already been to Nicaragua three times with GHO, and I was really looking forward to getting ‘checked off’ for approval as team leader on this one,” he said. “Things are still up in the air for many mission organizations this year, but I’m hopeful to do more short-term trips with GHO as well as some longer surgical expeditions with World Medical Mission, part of Samaritan’s Purse.”
Curt and his wife, Beth, are no strangers to the mission field. The daughter of Christian missionaries, Beth was born in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and grew up there. Curt and Beth have gone on medical trips to Kenya and Ecuador as well, taking their children with them.
“Our whole family went to Kenya for a month in 2008 to Kijabe Hospital where I did orthopedic surgery while Beth and the kids served the local children and worked in preparing surgical supplies for the operating room,” Curt said. “Our family also went to Ecuador, working in a Quichua village at 11,000 feet altitude on the side of a volcano. Both of these experiences required us to step outside of our comfort zone and into some of the difficulties these indigenous people endure every day.”
Beth said that their children—now almost grown—have benefited from serving as a family together and learning about new cultures and languages. “They’ve learned how others in the world live and how blessed we are in east Tennessee,” she said. “These trips take our focus off ourselves and material things and re-direct our attention toward helping others.
“We hope to continue encouraging friends and students to go on trips and introduce others to the joy of serving in missions—there are so many tremendous needs in the world and so many opportunities to serve.”
Locally, physicians and their families continue to support nonprofit organizations by serving on boards and helping with fundraising.
One example is the late Dr. Charles Fish who was active in the medical community, serving JCMC on the board of directors, as chairman of the department of pediatrics, and as founder of the neonatal/pediatric intensive care units. Sandra, his wife of 56 years, has been active in the Medical Alliance for nearly five decades.
When Charles wasn’t at the medical center or serving at his synagogue, though, he could be found on the open road as an avid cyclist, pursuing a sport he embraced later in life.
“He combined his passion for cycling with philanthropy,” Sandra said. “He enjoyed going on ‘century rides,’ sometimes solo and sometimes with groups. Our son, Michael, accompanied him on the ‘Horsey Hundred,’ a ride in Kentucky bluegrass country.”
Charles would often tell friends that he was going on rides—such as the BRAT (Bicycle Ride Across Tennessee) and the Tour de Cure, a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association—and that he was collecting funds for diabetes research. He raised several hundred dollars in the process.
After Charles took a tumble on one of his cycling workouts, he brought his cracked helmet to his office and put it on display, to show parents and especially their children how it saved his life—he encouraged them to wear helmets while bicycling.
“One of his legacies to us as his children and to others was the inspiration to push themselves, do their best, and learn from the experience,” said Rachel Fish, Charles’s and Sandra’s daughter. “Dad always modeled for us how to live a life of service to others.”
The Washington-Unicoi-Johnson County Medical Alliance supports the local medical community, provides volunteer services and funds for health-related organizations, and promotes healthy lifestyles in the tri-county area.