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April 14, 2020

Norman Beauchamp: Rising to the challenge

April 14, 2020

Norman J. Beauchamp Jr., M.D., MHS is MSU’s Executive Vice President for Health Science.

“We are each made for goodness, love and compassion. Our lives are transformed as much as the world is when we live with these truths.”                      -Desmond Tutu

The response of the Michigan State community to the novel coronavirus confronting us has been inspirational. The growing call for hope, health and healing has been responded to with selflessness, courage and urgency. I am confident public health measures in place will, with faithful compliance, arrest the spread of the virus and return us to normal life. Until then, the health care needs of our fellow citizens continue to demand our urgent engagement, and I want to share some of the ways the university community is rising to the challenge.

Awareness and action

Michigan State’s novel coronavirus task force and campus leaders continue to meet regularly, including daily calls between involved colleges and units across campus. We also are in close touch with federal, state and local officials, gaining awareness to better support our campus and fellow citizens.  

Student health care services continue to be offered at Olin Health Center, and Counseling and Psychiatric Services continues to provide limited service online and by phone. Emergency services to large and small animals are also still being provided by the College of Veterinary Medicine. MSU Health Care opened free drive-up testing, while medical and nursing students staff a case triage phone line. MSU is delivering essential in-person care and is also delivering care remotely through MSU Health Care telemedicine services. MSU Pharmacy is delivering prescriptions to patient homes to ensure access to necessary medications. MSU faculty clinicians at Sparrow and McLaren Greater Lansing are a part of the inspired response team providing care within the hospital.

More than 350 new medical doctors, osteopathic physicians and baccalaureate-prepared nurses this month, in fact, will speed to hospitals and clinics to join the fight against the novel coronavirus. With one of the nation’s largest health professional training programs, accelerating the arrival of graduating doctors and nurses is one way MSU is mobilizing to confront the crisis.

A challenge to limiting COVID-19 spread, treatment for infected patients and sustaining the efforts of health providers has been the inadequate access to testing. Testing capacity will also be central to the effort to return students back to school and employees back to work. Recognizing this imperative, researchers from several MSU units are independently developing diagnostic tests and testing capabilities.

Faculty researchers also are working to understand the virus and develop antibodies for a vaccine. They are investigating repurposing existing treatments and helping lead a nationwide effort to evaluate plasma from recovering COVID-19 patients for treatment and prevention. MSU’s supercomputing center is expediting access to the computational requirements of novel coronavirus research.

One Health

One Health recognizes the importance of collaboration between animal and human medicine in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Having a school of nursing, veterinary and two medical schools uniquely positions MSU to be a leader in One Health. In responding to the COVID-19 crisis, collaboration is bringing forward two novel approaches for disease testing, sharing of best practices for student education and aligning efforts to keep human and animal care providers healthy. Veterinary Medicine also has taken the lead on the implementation of decontamination of personal protective equipment using vaporized hydrogen peroxide, which was recently submitted for FDA approval.

Supporting communities

Community engagement has defined MSU’s land-grant mission for 165 years. My own relationships with the Lansing Chamber of Commerce, the Lansing Economic Area Partnership and The Right Place Inc. in Grand Rapids involve me in helping align local companies with health care needs.

Many Spartans are offering their expertise to the public, and you can find a listing at MI Spartan Impact. And as expert sources in news and social media, faculty members are providing guidance to people across the country on how to stay healthy and productive, dispelling rumors and falsehoods and providing informed and educated perspectives.

Our campus is responding to the need for protective equipment and supplies in meaningful and ingenious ways. That includes donating truckloads of supplies locally from campus laboratories and facilities. A number of Spartans are creating components to make face shields, and the MSU Chinese Faculty Club quickly exceeded its $30,000 fundraising goal to procure protective equipment for area health workers.

In a notable example of working with our community partners in the land-grant university tradition, MSU Extension worked in partnership with Sparrow Hospital to develop a method to heat-treat disposable N95 masks to decontaminate them for reuse. We are seeking FDA approval for that method, allowing a hub to be created on the MSU campus and to develop the capacity to decontaminate masks in communities across the state. The effort has benefited from MSU strengths including engineering, supply chain and environmental health and safety. 

There is so much more that must be done. We are now seeing the devastating impact of health disparities with disproportionate COVID-19 tragedy impacting communities of color. College of Nursing Dean Randolph Rasch has been charged by the governor to incorporate this into his statewide work on implicit bias in health. Michigan State’s Division of Public Health and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics are working in an advisory capacity with community, state and national officials to guide analysis and response. The health colleges are accepting the charge to find further ways to bring more healing to all in need.

Instances of Spartan action and compassion are too many to note here, but I urge you to return often to MSU’s novel coronavirus website and MSUToday. Challenge can bring out the best in people, and Spartan excellence is a source of hope and comfort for many. My deepest respect and gratitude go to all who contribute.

Listen to Russ White’s MSU Today podcast interview with Beauchamp