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Joan O'Brien sitting at deskPenn Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology is a national leader in patient care, research, education, and community service. This year, the outbreak of COVID-19 has challenged us to make sweeping changes in each of these areas to keep our Department and community safe. We quickly developed extensive safety procedures so our most urgent patients could receive immediate in-person care. Education of our medical students and residents also rapidly evolved to provide virtual learning experiences. The faculty and residents of our Department were the first to volunteer to work in the triage tents and at testing sites.


Throughout the peak of the pandemic, clinics and operating rooms were always available to provide comprehensive care. We very carefully followed UPHS and CDC guidelines to ensure a safe work environment for all our faculty, trainees, and staff. No one has been sickened by the virus in our practices.


As Governor Wolf lifted restrictions and the curve flattened, we went through a nearly 9,000 patient backlog of unscheduled patients, and the physicians ranked every patient in order on a 1-6 acuity scale to determine when each needed to return. The technicians, working from home, made more than 18,000 phone calls to accurately reschedule every patient at the right time with the right specialist.


Last week, we reached 105% of pre-COVID patient volumes using extended hours and Saturday clinics. Recommended PPE and monitoring of lobbies have kept patients socially distanced, and we have limited visitors. Optimal PPE has been made available to every member of our Department.


Our investigators are currently researching innovative therapies for treating patients with COVID-19. Kenneth Shindler, MD, PhD, is helping to test a potential therapy to prevent viral entry into cells. Maureen Maguire, PhD, is collaborating with specialists in other fields to study the long-term complications associated with COVID-19 on microvasculature such as retinal circulation. I am working with Marylyn Ritchie, PhD (Director of the Center for Translational Bioinformatics at UPenn) and Dan Rader, MD (Chairman of the Genetics Department at UPenn) to investigate genetic variants that may predispose or protect individuals from COVID-19, particularly in the overaffected African American population. Many other scientists have pivoted their research in response to this virus due to the need to better understand, respond, and treat our patients during this pandemic.


This issue of Scheie Vision highlights recent advances in research to treat and prevent ocular disease, which continues to be crucial to supporting the health of our patients. For the first time, this newsletter is online-only, due to limitations in creating a printed magazine (such as obtaining photography on-site). We hope you enjoy reading about sustained progress in our Department, and we will return this winter with a printed Annual Report filled with exciting articles and photos.      


As we continue to face unprecedented challenges in the year 2020, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all members of our Scheie community. The heroic efforts of our faculty, staff, trainees, and patients have allowed us to uphold the missions of the Scheie Eye Institute and have created moments of joy and bravery. I hope you will find hope and inspiration as you read through these articles. 


We value you all greatly as our colleagues.


Sincerely yours,

Joan O’Brien, MD


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