Message from Dr. Balser: VUMC Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Colleagues,

It’s been a very tough week. On the heels of a tragic storm that has left many of our people without homes, yesterday’s announcement regarding the presence of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Middle Tennessee,  caused a visceral reaction in the community. Our Access Center, EDs, and outpatient centers managed a surge in calls and visits from worried patients.   

While the impact of this outbreak is still evolving in the U.S. and there are certainly challenges ahead, there is also reason to be reassured. Again and again, the people of VUMC are rising to the occasion with superb emergency care and remarkable kindness. Among many compelling stories, Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital provided hot meals to hundreds of people in the hours following the storm.  

For most of us, the best way to address uncertainties and fears is solid preparation. In this regard we should all be reassured. Efforts to understand, treat and protect both healthcare workers and the public have been under way at VUMC for decades.

We are on the frontline of innovation for solutions to infectious diseases that threaten people here and around the world. For example, the antiviral Remdesivir, which is believed to hold promise as a COVID-19 therapy, was originally studied here in the lab of Dr. Mark Denison. He and his collaborators at VUMC and other centers are highly engaged in ongoing efforts to determine its effectiveness. At the same time, over the decade Dr. James Crowe and our Vaccine Center have developed advanced techniques to synthesize antibodies for short-term prevention and treatment of pandemic infections and are now engaged with federal agencies to advance such a treatment for COVID-19.  

As these and many other Vanderbilt investigators work to find solutions that could change lives over the coming months, in this kind of situation there is no substitute for emergency preparedness. Teams throughout VUMC have developed policies and rehearsed for this kind of situation, and those efforts are now bearing fruit as our people calmly and efficiently assess and manage changing conditions. And the wisdom and lengthy experience of Dr. Thomas Talbot and Dr. William Schaffner are helping guide our practices and calm public fears, here at VUMC and across the nation.

Most importantly, the entire region is benefiting from thousands of compassionate and committed VUMC nurses, physicians and staff who are here day and night, so often taking on extra responsibilities without being asked. You are making a profound difference — and we are all inspired by you.

To help in the days ahead, the creators of our ever-popular Flu Tool are innovating to develop a similarly effective “COVID tool” to help concerned patients, and particularly those with symptoms, better understand whether medical intervention is needed. For a single source of truth, we’ve created a dedicated COVID-19 website as a one-stop compendium for information and resources for employees and patients. We have also established a dedicated COVID phone line, answered 7 a.m - 7 p.m. (888-312-0847) to help triage calls and a one-page COVID-19 information sheet to share with our patients.

In support of you, we will continue communicating regularly about COVID-related matters.  

Together, we will meet the challenges ahead.    

Sincerely,

Jeff Balser, MD, PhD

President and CEO, VUMC

Dean, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine