Our dedication to our patients and our community

Dear Colleagues,

Spring is now well underway, with graduation ceremonies and summer vacation on the horizon. I’ve been glad to meet so many of you as the academic year winds down and we enjoy the warmer weather around campus. In every conversation, I’m impressed by the tremendous quality of our work across all departments, divisions, passions, and pursuits. Each interaction provides new insight into the special qualities that have contributed to Columbia’s extraordinary success over the last several decades. Chief among those characteristics is a foundational commitment to our patients, not just when they come through the doors of our hospitals and clinics, but also in the work that reaches them in their homes and communities.

Last night, I participated in the induction ceremony for the Academy of Clinical Excellence (ACE) at VP&S. ACE was first proposed by Dean Emeritus Lee Goldman, MD, to recognize clinical faculty members for outstanding patient care and distinguished clinical excellence. Inductees are nominated by their peers for exemplifying the extraordinary compassion and care embodied by our most dedicated clinicians. This year’s induction ceremony honored the two most recent classes, a double header given the pandemic’s impact on last year’s ceremony. Please join me in congratulating this year’s 42 ACE inductees. I would also like to thank Drs. Carrie Ruzal-Shapiro and Michael Argenziano, along with the entire ACE leadership committee, for their ongoing commitment to this important organization. Special thanks to Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr for a wonderful keynote address, and to Emily Frey and our events team for organizing such a special night.

At CUIMC, clinical excellence and dedication to our patients can be found anywhere you look. Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting Christopher Petit, MD, during our morning 1 train commute. Dr. Petit is the Welton M. Gersony Professor of Pediatrics and chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology. He joined us from Emory University in late 2020, and now leads a world-renowned division that has long set the standard for outstanding interdisciplinary heart care for children. Since its establishment in late 1971 under the directorship of Dr. Welton Gersony, Columbia’s Division of Pediatric Cardiology has developed many of the life-saving innovations now used to treat congenital heart disease. Families from across the globe come to us when their child has a serious heart condition, not only because of our exceptional patient outcomes, but because of the lengths our teams go to elevate the patient experience. As one example of those extraordinary efforts, Dr. Petit shared that one of our physicians recently learned of a family with limited means staying in a local Airbnb while their baby recovered in our cardiac ICU. She connected with the family and paid for their housing costs herself to ease their burden during a difficult time. Her story—one of hundreds like it—is emblematic of the kind of person who comes to work here at Columbia.

Dr. Petit also shared an update on his plans for the division, which include expanding access and patient outreach in the local community. He and his team are finding ways to collaborate more closely with community pediatricians and to be more available for new and existing patients. It’s so important that we continue improving access to our care by making it easier for patients to reach us in the practices and by meeting patients where they are, especially in communities with fewer resources or other barriers to care.

I recently connected with Nick Homma, MD, chief medical officer of ColumbiaDoctors, who updated me on some of the excellent population health programs he leads in the faculty practice organization. We discussed how important it is for academic medical centers like ours to not only deliver high quality care, but to do so as efficiently as possible. In our collaboration with NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell as a Medicare ACO (accountable care organization), we have been one of the top performers in New York State for quality and cost effectiveness over the last four years. We ensure that our patients get the care they need, when they need it, without unnecessary procedures and additional costs. We do so by taking a patient-centered approach and working with our communities to tailor our care to their needs, recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to medicine. Part of that patient-centered approach lies in reducing wait times, increasing convenience, and expanding our reach, which we’ve achieved in part by increasing our investment in telehealth. Around 20% of our total appointments are now conducted via telehealth, and we expect that number to grow as we reach more patients locally and across the Tri-state area. (For some departments, like Psychiatry, that number is already as high as 95%).

Hearing from Drs. Petit and Homma about how we are adapting our services and outreach efforts echoed the sentiments of so many recent conversations about patient access and equitable care. It’s simply not enough to provide the best service; we have to ensure that those efforts reach the most vulnerable and underserved populations, especially in our own neighborhood.

A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of introducing Wendy Hobson-Rohrer, MD, MSPH, who delivered the David Seegal AOA Visiting Professorship Lecture. Her talk focused on the power of interdisciplinarity and highlighted important lessons about building and supporting successful teams. For me, the highlight of Dr. Hobson-Rohrer’s visit was hearing her immense admiration for one of our longstanding faculty members, Dodi Meyer, MD. Over the last 30 years, Dr. Meyer has become an internationally recognized leader in community health. She and her teammates, including Andy Nieto at NewYork-Presbyterian, have developed a robust portfolio of community programs and partnerships addressing everything from food insecurity to youth development. Dr. Meyer’s visionary commitment to community health led to the creation of the Community Pediatrics Training Program, where residents focus on learning principles of population health, advocacy, cultural competency, and meaningful community engagement. Reciprocal learning and true community engagement are absolutely critical to our mission, maybe now more than ever. It’s heartening to see the service learning approach embraced by Dr. Meyer gaining even more traction in departments and divisions throughout the medical center.

I’ll leave you with one more story from our coronary care unit, which I recently visited for the first time. I went to meet a critically ill patient who had been transferred from another hospital for management of a complex cardiopulmonary process after a mechanical fall. Her family had been told that she was unlikely to survive the hospitalization, and they were determined to get her to Columbia. As I watched the nurses expertly settle her in to the unit, it was clear that her family was right: There was simply no better place for her to be. While we can’t always hope for this kind of outcome, I am delighted to share that the patient rapidly improved. After being told that she would never leave the hospital, she left our care in good health and high spirits. My deepest gratitude to Chris Irobunda, MD, and the entire CCU nursing, house staff, and respiratory teams, for providing the extraordinary care that changed this patient’s course so dramatically. It’s no exaggeration to say that the team at Columbia saved her life.

And her story is no outlier. For patients and families who require the very best care, Columbia is a place where hope and healing happen. That’s because everything we do is about caring for our patients, whether it’s the work we do in the hospital today, or the education, research, and community outreach that allow us to better serve patients of tomorrow. Medicine is a team sport, and it requires excellent players across every position—from physicians and nurses to technicians, administrators, assistants, and everyone in between. The quality of our teams brings to mind the inscription above the doors of the Presbyterian Building: “For of the most high cometh healing.” Your dedication to our patients breathes meaning into those words every single day. For that, you have my sincerest thanks and admiration.

All my best,

Katrina Armstrong, MD 
Chief Executive Officer, Columbia University Irving Medical Center 
Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons