By Chris Motola
Loretto’s new medical director has roots in the Army, emergency medicine, once served as battalion surgeon in Operation Enduring Freedom in Kandahar, Afghanistan
Q: Are you currently serving as medical director at Loretto or is that forthcoming?
A: I actually started as medical director a few months ago when the previous medical director retired. I was referred for the job.
Q: What’s your medical background?
A: I’m trained as a family physician and have worked in a family practice environment for most of my career. But I’ve also worked in emergency medicine most of my career. I was in the Army for 26 years. As a family physician you see the geriatric population along with all the other groups. I hadn’t actually been thinking about long-term care medicine until I moved here to Syracuse and Joel Amidon, the previous medical director and long-time friend of the family, contacted me and said he needed some help. So I started working less ER and more long-term care. And then he decided he was going to retire and they referred me for the job.
Q: Did you always want to take on an administrative role or did you more fall into it?
A: No, actually, I kind of fell into it. I did a lot of administrative stuff when I was in the Army and I pretty much decided I wasn’t going to focus on clinical, but then this just kind of fell into my lap. I’m glad it did though. I was doing a lot of ER work and getting a little burned out on it, so it’s a nice change for me.
Q: Are you still practicing?
A: I’m down to four ER nights a month, but I’m doing a lot of clinical every day in the nursing homes. I see patients every day there.
Q: You have a lot of military experience. How much of that is transferable to administration and healthcare in the civilian sector?
A: The standard of care and practice in military medicine is actually the same. What’s different is wearing the uniform and going where you’re told to go instead of where you want to go. And there’s the hierarchy of rank. But as far as practicing medicine itself, not much is different.
Q: Does that include organizational procedures?
A: That’s actually not very different either. They have different names for the titles. But there’s the same kind of administrative structure in the military and civilian world. One thing that’s different is the relationships are a little different.
Q: What’s your assessment of where Loretto is at right now? What do you think needs to change?
A: Well, Loretto’s in a very good place right now. We just had a state inspection that we did very well on. There were no medical deficiencies and the deficiencies they found were all minor things like food temperature and some housekeeping things. Nothing really terrible. Doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to work on, but we’re in a good place. We did a lot of innovations during COVID-19 that set us apart from some of the other places. Some of the other places learned from how we handled COVID-19 to set up their own COVID-19 treatment programs. I’m very proud of how we worked through that. I’m hoping that sometime next year we’ll be able to take our masks off, but we have to wait for the health department to decide that.
Q: How is Loretto currently balancing the social needs of seniors with protecting them from COVID-19?
A: [As of Nov. 18] we’re back to full visitation, but the visitors have to wear masks. Other than non-residents having to wear masks, we’re back to full activities. Residents don’t have to wear masks.
Q: Are COVID-19-related deaths down?
A: We do still have cases of COVID-19, and we have a floor for our COVID-19 unit. But the people are almost all vaccinated and aren’t dying from it like they were. It’s rare for them even have serious symptoms.
Q: I see that you’re also an adjunct assistant clinical professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. As an M.D. training D.O.s do you find there’s much of a philosophical difference to overcome?
A: The place where I do my ER work is over in Oneida and the Touro students do rotations through Oneida in all the different clinical areas. I supervise them in the ER. We don’t treat them any differently and I don’t see too many differences. The main difference is they learn how to do osteopathic manipulation therapy. But if they’re a pulmonologist, the osteopathic manipulation isn’t much part of their practice. So I don’t think there’s much of a point differentiating between us.
Q: What would you like your signature accomplishment as medical director to be?
A: I don’t know if it would be a signature accomplishment, but one of the things we’re constantly working on is making sure we’re getting our medical notes in for admissions, making sure there’s really good communication between nurses and medical staff. I tell everybody they can call me anytime for any reason if they have any concerns, and I want the rest of the medical staff to practice the same way. We’re always working on falls. Falls are a constant issue in nursing homes for two reasons. Some of the patients forget that they can’t walk and try to walk. Others are in a hurry to get to the bathroom and are willing to wait for help. We want to keep people healthy and improve them while they’re here instead of having them decline and have to go back to the hospital. So we work on ways to make sure we stay on top of that and decrease our hospitalizations. We have a unit called the RCU, the Restorative Care Unit, which has more RN support and the ability to do cardiovascular monitoring. So we can use that unit to help patients avoid re-hospitalization. Those are really the things I’m working on.
Name: Christopher Black, M.D., FAAFP
Position: Medical Director of Loretto Health & Rehabilitation
Hometown: Worcester, Massachusetts. Lives in Manlius
Education: F. Edward Herbert School of Medicine
Affiliations: Oneida Hospital
Career: Battalion Surgeon in Operation Enduring Freedom in Kandahar, Afghanistan
Organizations: American Academy of Family Physicians; American Board of Family Medicine
Family: Wife, five children
Hobbies: Watching sports; reading fiction