2021 Conference | Keynote: COVID-19 and the Racial Reckoning




This session was part of Day one of the 2021 Humanism and Healing Conference: Structural Racism and Its Impact on Medicine, hosted by the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS).

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COVID-19 and the Racial Reckoning: Two doctors – one Black and one white – discussed leadership and progress in healthcare during the dual pandemics of the 21st century. Dr. Wayne Riley is the 17th President of SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Dr. Richard Levin is President and CEO of The Arnold P. Gold Foundation. In this “fireside chat,” the two healthcare leaders shared rich lifetimes of experience in academic and organized medicine. With the perspective “that even the most disenfranchised of this nation have a right to the highest quality healthcare,” they discussed the startling realities of care exposed in the spring of 2020 when we faced both a global pandemic and the beginning of a reckoning for hundreds of years of racism and social injustice. The critical role of leadership in healthcare during these crises was explored and a better, more just future imagined.

Questions: How did an epicenter hospital with a large majority of disenfranchised patients organize a response to COVID-19 and survive the worst? What are lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis that could be applied next time or shared with other healthcare systems? With the intercommunity mortality gap in America at 20 years, how can leadership that recognizes the importance of humanism change the future to provide the highest quality healthcare to all people?

The speakers:

Richard I. Levin, MD, is the President and CEO of The Arnold P. Gold Foundation and an Emeritus Professor at both New York University and McGill University. The Gold Foundation champions humanism in healthcare – defined as compassionate, collaborative, scientifically excellent care for all. Under his leadership, this nonprofit has expanded from its roots in medical schools into the wider spectrum of relationship-centered care – reaching schools of nursing, nurses and physicians in practice, researchers, and, through the Gold Corporate Council, global healthcare companies.

Dr. Levin previously served as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Vice-Principal for Health Affairs at McGill University; prior to that, he was Vice Dean for Education, Faculty and Academic Affairs, and a Professor of Medicine at NYU School of Medicine. He is also an Emeritus Attending Physician at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, the oldest public hospital in the United States.

Dr. Levin earned a B.S. with Honors from Yale, graduated from the NYU School of Medicine, where he was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha, and there completed a cardiology fellowship. Following a postdoc in vascular biology at the Specialized Center for Research in Thrombosis at Cornell, he founded the Laboratory for Cardiovascular Research at NYU, practiced cardiology, and investigated the cell biology of vascular disease.  He holds multiple patents and is the founder of a diagnostics company.

Dr. Levin has served as President of the New York Heart Association and on the Board of Directors of the American Heart Association. He is the recipient of numerous honors, including a Clinician Scientist Award from the National Institutes of Health and an honorary doctorate from Wake Forest University. He is also a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

He resides in New York City with his wife, Jane. They have two daughters and four grandchildren.

Wayne J. Riley, MD, is the 17th president of SUNY Downstate. He also holds the faculty ranks of tenured Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine, College of Medicine and tenured Professor of Health Policy & Management, School of Public Health.

From 2007-2013, Dr. Riley served as the 10th president, chief executive officer and professor of medicine at Meharry Medical College, the nation’s largest, private, independent, historically black academic health center dedicated to educating health professionals. He simultaneously was also a professor of internal medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Center at Meharry and jointly, professor of internal medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Immediately prior to joining SUNY Downstate, Dr. Riley was the 101st President of the American College of Physicians.

As president of SUNY Downstate, Dr. Riley leads the only academic medical center in Brooklyn, New York, a borough of more than 2.5 million people. Downstate includes a College of Medicine, College of Nursing, College of Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative.

Dr. Riley earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University, a Master of Public Health degree from Tulane University, a Master’s in Business Administration from Rice University, and a Doctor of Medicine degree from the Morehouse School of Medicine.


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