Ignite Magazine | Fall 2020

Page 4

FEATURE

LEADING THROUGH A PANDEMIC: ONE NEOMED FAMILY’S JOURNEY BY ELAINE GUREGIAN

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hen the COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States, one NEOMED family suddenly found itself in the thick of things — helping to meet the need during a national ventilator crisis, providing clinical care to coronavirus patients, and supporting health care providers. Lori Hess, M.D. (’91), and Jeffery Hess, M.D. (’91), met at NEOMED and have two sons: Jonathan Hess, M.D., who graduated from NEOMED in 2019, and Thomas, a mechanical engineer. From their homes — Lori and Jeff’s in the leafy Detroit suburb of Birmingham, Michigan; Thomas’s in a revitalizing neighborhood in downtown Detroit; and Jonathan’s in the hub of downtown Philadelphia — they stayed connected last spring over conversations that were often interrupted by work calls, day or night. Four professionals, four perspectives. In separate conversations, members of the Hess family talked about how the last few months have gone, and what they see ahead.

JEFFERY HESS, M.D. (’91) As the corporate medical director for General Motors, Jeff Hess’s normal job is to oversee the health and wellness of employees at the health centers at each of GM’s large facilities in North America, South America and Asia. The centers take care of occupational injuries and monitor employee health related to chemical or physical exposures. Jeff also develops and oversees programs and policies to promote employee health and well-being. But things weren’t normal on a Friday afternoon, when news of the COVID-19 pandemic had started spreading from its epicenter in China. Because the disease caused breathing problems requiring ventilators, experts were predicting a dangerous shortage in the U.S. “I was talking to one of our directors and he said, ‘I might need to talk to you 04 I G N I T I N G

T H E PA S S I O N O F P H Y S I C I A N S , P H A R M A C I S T S A N D H E A LT H C A R E R E S E A R C H E R S

about ventilators.’ He was heading out to Seattle for meetings for the weekend. I said ‘Sure, I can do that.’ They came back and over the weekend, they already had a plan to work with Ventec, a ventilator manufacturer in Seattle,” Jeff recalls. Despite this experienced physician’s calm demeanor, he still sounds dazzled by the speed at which the auto giant started manufacturing medical equipment. As he puts it, “It takes us a couple years to design and build a car!’’ “Our plants were operating until March, but then it became like whack-amole, with cases popping up. GM plants, like other plants in the U.S., shut down for a time. Leaders at GM looked at the issue and said employee safety was paramount. In April, we put together full protection strategies, looking at practices from China and South Korea and from the