Monday, June 8, 2020

AMA President and Psychiatrist Vows to Continue Work for Equity and Justice

“Our country—indeed our world—is being challenged as never before,” said outgoing AMA President Patrice Harris, M.D., in her farewell address during AMA’s virtual meeting of the House of the Delegates yesterday. Physicians and the public are being “[c]hallenged by a novel virus for which there is not yet a specific treatment or vaccine, challenged by a lack of resources and personal protective equipment [PPE], challenged by a political climate that is highly polarized, challenged by the rampant spread of misinformation and disinformation.”

While nationwide protests continued to rage against police brutality in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, Harris—who is the first African American woman president of the AMA—vowed to continue to work for “equity and justice within the walls of our exam rooms, the health delivery system, the halls of Congress, and our justice system.”

Harris, who continues to be the chair of the AMA Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse, also vowed to work “to ensure that mental health is integrated into overall health and that there is action to address the physical and psychological consequences of early traumatic experiences.”

Harris referenced remarks in her November address at the AMA Interim Meeting in Orlando, Fla.—three months before pandemic lockdowns were initiated—in which she said physicians would always “match the moment,” rising to every occasion and continuing to earn public confidence in an era of mistrust.

“Little did any of us realize at the time how dramatically we would be put to the test,” she said. “But ‘match the moment’ we have. Physicians are working long hours in offices and hospitals, sleeping in their basements or hotels so they do not infect family members, working overtime to develop vaccines and treatments, countering the endless false narratives circulating across media channels, and reopening medical practices so we can meet the postponed health needs of our patients.”

“We applaud Dr. Harris for the completion of a successful year as the leader of the AMA,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “She served during a trying time in medicine as the COVID-19 pandemic began to arrive on our shores. She led the AMA as it pushed for resources for doctors on the front lines and for regulatory changes in Washington to help deliver care to those in need. She was an advocate for promoting evidence-based approaches to the pandemic. We are proud that a psychiatrist was able to lead the AMA during this time of great anxiety.”

Harris outlined several key organizational activities and achievements that AMA pursued during her presidential year. These include the following:

  • Urgently lobbying Congress and the Trump administration to accelerate the production of PPE, test kits, and ventilators.
  • Advocating for regulatory changes to facilitate remote patient visits.
  • Supporting inclusion of financial support for small and independent practices in economic relief bills approved by Congress.
  • Consistently calling on politicians, media outlets, and government officials to focus on science and evidence in all decision-making.

At a time of enormous national unrest, Harris vowed to be a hopeful supporter and leader of positive change. “My promise to you is that I will be guided by the direction of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his final Sunday sermon—‘to remain awake through a great revolution.’ And so, as I speak to you for the last time as president of the American Medical Association. … Please know that this ‘psychiatrist is in.’ ”

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