On National Doctor’s Day, March 30, Forbes published “15 Heroic Firsthand Stories From the Coronavirus Front Lines.” Physicians featured included UVM alumna Dr. Lynn Black, a medical director of the Respiratory Illness Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital. Previously, she did disaster response in Haiti after the Haiti earthquake and Hurricane Matthew and in Liberia during the Ebola epidemic. A graduate of UVM’s school of nursing, Black is on the College of Nursing and Health Sciences Advisory Board. 

Since March 11, I’ve been working on expanding our ability to care for patients with possible COVID-19. We had a small clinic, the Medical Walk-In, at the start, then about a week after we expanded to a unit in what had previously been the women’s health outpatient clinic. Then the following week we opened up in a larger off-site sports medicine clinic. It’s been a continuous evolution of finding larger and more appropriate areas to take care of sick and contagious people. Our exam rooms have been completely stripped down. There are no pillows or paper on the tables. There are no chairs. There is one stethoscope that stays in the room, because once a patient is seen in there, the entire room, along with equipment, needs to be cleaned. This is usually done by the physician in the room to lessen the need for another person needing personal protective equipment. 

Other disaster settings, such as Haiti and Liberia, have been low-resource settings. That’s a very different infrastructure. I have learned in those settings how to manage a disaster situation, how to keep a team together, and how to move quickly. There needs to be a very clear chain of command on how to get things done. My biggest worry is that there are not going to be enough restrictions to make sure that we can stop this virus, and that people won’t pay serious attention to the need for social distancing and isolation. But I am choosing to be hopeful. I think that everyone is taking this seriously now and working hard. The world has experienced Spanish flu, polio and other infectious illnesses, and I do think that we’ll come out the other side of this. 

Read a story from 2018 on Dr. Black's disaster relief work.


Dr. Lynn Black