How RODEO rode through the year of COVID-19

Stretching the Point

RODEO photo
From left: Drs. John Frantz, Doug Chessen and Bill Peach planted  the seed for the growing RODEO get-togethers.

By John Frantz, MD

The idea began in an unlikely place. John, an ophthalmologist, and Doug, a psychiatrist, both semi-retired, were talking quietly at the visitation during the funeral of a colleague’s wife; numerous friends from their decades in practice were also in attendance. John remarked “It’s a shame that we all only see each other at funerals, now. Maybe we need to form a group to meet periodically under more positive circumstances.”

Both physicians had practiced during an era of more collegiality among practitioners, when regular meetings of the local medical society, hospital staff meetings and Sunday rounds were common opportunities to talk with other doctors, both within and outside of one’s specialty. “Call me next week,” Doug replied, “and we can get a group together to meet for lunch.” Doug was aware of a group of retired doctors from the Southside who met monthly with no agenda except fellowship. Thus was formed the concept which would soon grow into RODEO, Retired Old Doctors Eating Out.

The following week, the two doctors called their friend Bill, a retired neurosurgeon and explained their idea. Doug reserved a table for 10 at a local restaurant and the trio began calling a few friends. In less than an hour, the table was filled and almost every doctor that they phoned suggested another person to invite. A call to the restaurant secured a larger table, this one for 20 guests but within a brief period, additional seating was desired; a room was reserved. On February 21, 2019, the first meeting was held with 35 physicians attending. Throughout the following year, the group met monthly for lunch.

When the seed for RODEO was planted that day at the visitation, little did anyone know that funerals  -— and gatherings of all kinds  -— would soon come to an abrupt end. The final in-person meeting was held in March 2020, when it was agreed that meetings would be suspended because of the threat of Sars-CoV-2 infection. John, Doug and Bill decided that something should be done to hold the group together until in-person meetings could resume. By then, the number of physicians who were interested in being on the group’s contact list had increased to more than 60.

Technology had flourished, allowing online meetings; a most viable alternative. Although some members of the group were not tech savvy, it would allow many to enjoy meeting, and it was hoped that some of those doctors would reach out to their friends to share their computer skills. The decision was made to proceed with John obtaining speakers, Doug acting as communications officer and Bill continuing as a point of contact.

Wasting no time, the first “virtual meeting” was held on April 1, 2020, a teleconference with Mike Dacey, MD, president and chief operating officer of Riverside Health Systems (RHS). Dr. Dacey’s Power Point slides had been emailed to the RODEO members prior to the call, allowing them to follow along with him on the call. This hybrid process worked well, and the presentation was excellent, giving members a clear understanding of how this local health system was preparing itself to meet the challenge. Discussion of modeling and public health measures to ‘flatten the curve’ provided some understanding of the extremes of the problems that the community was facing. Many members felt that Dr. Dacey’s prior training as in intensivist gave him a unique perspective on COVID-19 that might be lacking in other hospital administrators.

This meeting was followed by another on April 16, 2020, given by Nancy Littlefield, DNP, MSHA, RN, RHS’s executive vice president and chief nursing officer. By then, Riverside Regional Medical Center and outlying hospitals were seeing admissions of COVID-19 patients, so Littlefield’s presentation gave the retired doctors insight into the problems arising in the hospital care of the patients with severe disease.

After that meeting, the schedule reverted to monthly meetings and the platform evolved to Zoom. The quality of the speakers and their presentations were remarkable.

As RODEO enters a new year, many questions remain:

  • Although we now have effective vaccines available, will vaccine hesitancy interfere with controlling the pandemic?
  • How significant a role will viral variants play?
  • How will we cope with the coming tsunamis of pandemic-related grief, anxiety and disappointment?

These and other issues, both local and global, will face RODEO members — along with the community at-large. Still, most members will agree that RODEO’s continuation throughout this year of COVID-19 has not only provided our members with informative, science-based information, but also helped maintain a sense of community and connection to the medical profession.

Contact: John Frantz, MD
Phone: 757-871-4867

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