It is with great humility that I take over the leadership of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. I want to thank both Drs. DeFrance and Kiragu for their leadership over the last 4 years and their mentorship as to how to successfully lead our chapter forward.
I have been thinking about what I would write for this initial column for quite a while and came up with a number of topics I had hoped to highlight, including my goals of trying to get the personal belief exemption to vaccination repealed, trying to get meaningful gun violence prevention laws passed and getting out to many of the pediatric practices around the state to meet our members and encourage involvement in the chapter. While those are still goals I hope we can accomplish over the next two years, that was all before COVID-19 and George Floyd’s murder changed the landscape. I also thought I might write about what it felt like to retire from clinical practice after 35 years, while continuing to work as a part-time medical director at Children’s Minnesota – but even that was changed by the pandemic as I was unable to say goodbye to so many of my long-time patients and even give my colleagues a hug goodbye. So instead, I want to focus on our current pediatric landscape.
Recently, our chapter sent out a survey on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting your practices. The results (75 percent metro, 9 percent in NE Minnesota, 5 percent in other regions) were not surprising, but included the following:
45 percent decline in patient volumes
35 percent decline in childhood immunizations
45 percent decline in adolescent immunizations
95 percent of respondents describe COVID-19’s financial impact on their clinic as moderate to significant
Significant increase in use of telehealth
Biggest challenge is getting patients caught up on immunizations
All of us will have to continue to adapt to our new reality of PPE, telehealth and urging our families to get their children in for routine health care and immunizations. Our chapter will continue to advocate for appropriate reimbursement for all care provided.
George Floyd’s murder has also changed so much for us and together with COVID-19, has forced us to look at how the pandemic is adversely affecting our communities of color and examine why that is. His death and the increased focus on racism in our society is also making us aware of such things as how to talk to children about racism, the racial and ethnic diversity in our own clinic staff, and how our own chapter and our chapter Board of Directors can engage in anti-racism work. To do this, the MNAAP Executive Committee recommended creating an anti-racism team, composed of MNAAP chapter members and non-chapter pediatricians from Minnesota that will help us begin to find the ways our organization can address structural racism internally and inform the conversation externally. We are excited for the insights and action items we can gain from the work of this group.
Finally, by the time this issue of Minnesota Pediatrician comes out, schools will have opened in a variety of ways following the safe practices recommended by public health officials to allow students to not only learn but also to grow socially and emotionally. This is not the return to school we imagined, but as our journey through this pandemic stretches on we are forced to adjust to the changing landscape. Thank you for your dedication to Minnesota’s children and adolescents. Your unwavering commitment to their health and wellbeing is the one constant that can be counted on in these difficult times.
Sheldon Berkowitz, MD, FAAP