Dr. Jeffrey Weinstein taps at his keyboard. The light from his office computer reflects off his black-rimmed glasses as a Kettering Health PR team member situates an iPad on a stand and lighting equipment for an interview. Dr. Weinstein turns from a screen showing a full inbox.
“Who’s this with again?”
“This is with John from WHIO.”
The circular light casts a florescent glow over Dr. Weinstein and his office.
“He’ll ask you some questions about vaccinations and adolescents.”
That morning, March 31, 2021, Pfizer-BioNTech announced results of a COVID-19 vaccine study showing 100% efficacy in adolescents. It was another step toward a new normal, but one that prompted questions.
Facing the floating iPad, a familiar occurrence for the past year, Dr. Weinstein waits, sitting comfortably and confidently. A voice emanates from the device. “Hello, Dr. Weinstein. How are you today?”
Behind the ring of light, Dr. Weinstein’s workbag sits on a table next to the March edition of The Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Overlooking the table, five degrees and certificates hang on the wall: Tufts University, Doctor of Medicine; Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society; Practitioner of Healthcare Quality; Certified Physician Executive; and Fellow of Infectious Disease Society of America.
He has more at his home.
On the wall to the left, next to a tall slender window, hangs a picture. Frozen in time, doctors stand on risers, wearing white residency jackets. Near the middle, toward the top, stands a younger Dr. Weinstein. The photo, taken in 1992 at Duke University, where he and his wife met during residency, has somewhat faded. Four years after the photo was taken, the Weinsteins moved to Dayton, Ohio—following his fellowship at Yale in infectious diseases.
The pixelated reporter asks his prepared questions. Dr. Weinstein answers each with a calm and resolute cadence. His voice carries both expertise and empathy; he knows he’s speaking not only to a curious reporter but also to parents, teachers, bus drivers, and others waiting to hear a trusted voice.
The reporter finishes and thanks Dr. Weinstein. The ring of light goes dark, and Dr. Weinstein turns to his monitors. A new email has arrived about another interview later that day. It’s Wednesday, so it’s not his first interview—nor his last—this week.
For Dr. Weinstein and other Kettering Health leaders, this has been the norm. Since January 2020, their offices have doubled as temporary studios for countless interviews with local news stations. These leaders have helped the Dayton community grapple with a new virus and the resulting pandemic that was, as Dr. Weinstein says, “unlike any pandemic we had seen before.”
Becoming a needed voice
In 1996, fresh from Yale, Dr. Weinstein began at Kettering as an infectious disease physician. Despite the popularity of shows like ER in the 1990s, infectious disease physicians weren’t quite household names. The lack of limelight, though, never busied Dr. Weinstein’s mind.
A practicing physician, he worked with Kettering residents and served on committees at Kettering and Sycamore medical centers, contributing to decision-making around medical staffing, physician peer review, and infection prevention and control.
As the 2000s and 2010s arrived, it became customary to see infectious disease experts on TV. In 2003, the SARS epidemic captured headlines. Ten years later, both Ebola and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) occupied the world’s stage. And experts like Dr. Weinstein became needed voices, helping the public understand these viruses and how local hospitals prepared for their potential arrivals.
Epidemics like these (not to be confused with a pandemic, which involves a worldwide spread) didn’t upend most of western life. The viruses either disappeared (like SARS), or we learned to live around them. Then in 2015, Zika virus turned heads as it spread through North America. Dr. Weinstein and others were again called upon.
New role, new responsibilities, and a new virus
That same year, Dr. Weinstein stepped into a leadership role as chief quality officer, overseeing patient relations, social services, safety, and more. Even with his expanded leadership responsibilities, he continued to meet with patients.
The new role fell naturally into Dr. Weinstein’s world and personality. He approached leadership as he does most things: an opportunity to “dissect a story to solve a mystery.” So, he hit the books. And in early 2019, after 150 hours of coursework in healthcare law, medical ethics, and finance, along with a capstone, he became a certified physician executive with the American Association for Physician Leadership.
Dr. Weinstein continued to serve Kettering, Sycamore, and Troy medical centers throughout the year. No one could predict, though, how Dr. Weinstein, along with other network leaders, would harness their expertise and empathy to help the Miami Valley navigate some of its darkest forthcoming days.
Later that year, on Dec. 31, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported cases of pneumonia in the Hubei province in China. The cause: an unknown virus.
“There was no roadmap”
On January 21, 2020, the U.S. announced its first confirmed case of someone with a disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus. That same day, scientists confirmed the virus can be shared from person to person.
Ten days later, Dr. Weinstein did his first interview about the disease called COVID-19 as the WHO declared it a public health emergency.
“There was no roadmap,” Dr. Weinstein says. “We had to begin making a lot of decisions.”
A factor that helped experts respond to the spread of previous coronaviruses was those who had them typically showed symptoms.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, played by different rules. Many infected with this virus weren’t showing symptoms and unknowingly went about their everyday lives, spreading it. It was a worst-case scenario: “the recipe for a pandemic.”
By February, the virus had been sequenced and sent to labs around the world for study. As new information about COVID-19 emerged daily, plans needed to be in place to care for both non-COVID-19 patients and COVID-19 patients. Dr. Weinstein and other leaders at Kettering Health began developing protocols. Soon enough, COVID-19 would be in the Miami Valley.
Protocols for every nook and cranny
“A million things required protocols,” says Dr. Weinstein.
Every nook and cranny of life in the medical centers needed them—how to get enough equipment to care for COVID-19 patients, how to isolate patients, how to triage patients in the ER, how to address PPE (personal protective equipment) needs for staff, how to take patients to get an X-ray, how to take food into patients’ rooms.
A group of leaders—the clinical executive council—began to meet at 7 a.m. every morning. The group consisted of Brenda Kuhn (chief clinical officer), John Weimer (vice president for emergency services), Dr. Patrick Lytle (vice president for clinic outcomes), Jen Shull (chief nursing officer), Carol Applegeet (vice president for surgical services), Mark Rita (vice president for ancillary services), and Dr. Weinstein.
Every morning, they assessed patient numbers, developed plans for medical centers’ capacity, and addressed how to steward resources among the network’s patients’ needs.
Developing protocols for any hospital is a balancing act. Developing them for a network of hospitals as a mysterious virus spreads like wildfire is a balancing act while blindfolded and hanging upside down.
“There’s an infection-prevention aspect to every protocol. But there’s also a vital emotional and psychological—a human—side to every protocol,” shares Dr. Weinstein. “We want to be accurate and humane. We want people to be present for everything they need to be while we’re also doing everything necessary to keep everyone safe.”
Kettering Health began to intensify visitor restrictions to protect patients and healthcare staff. The clinical executive council also wanted people to be present, particularly for life’s bookends—the birth of a newborn or the passing of a loved one. So, they developed exceptions for these events, both to keep patients safe and preserve the dignity of the human experience.
On March 11, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. And the world came to a stop.
When the pandemic becomes personal
On March 18, Kettering Health (then named Kettering Health Network) held a press conference. COVID-19 was now in the Miami Valley. The first COVID-19–positive patient in the area was being treated at Kettering. Drs. Weinstein, Lytle, and others took reporters’ questions.
While much of Dr. Weinstein’s professional life was already consumed by COVID-19, it unavoidably became personal with the first patient.
The patient had been admitted to Kettering with a respiratory infection. When the patient’s COVID-19 test came back positive, Dr. Weinstein called the patient. But Dr. Weinstein knew more than the patient’s test results. “On the phone, I asked him, ‘Are you … ?’ When the patient answered, I realized I knew him. It hit home.”
COVID-19, more than any other recent calamity, blurred the lines between medical personnel’s professional and personal lives. “Nearly 90% of each day was focused on COVID-19. Everything shifted to COVID.”
Because of his leadership role and prowess in infectious diseases, Dr. Weinstein received calls from doctors and others: “What do I do with this patient?” “Does this patient need isolation?” “How do I test this patient?” By the summer, Dr. Weinstein was receiving 20-30 calls every day, often during the night.
“The stress level was high. I was less stressed than frontline workers, but was feeling the stress of ‘Am I making the right decision?’ People are depending on you and your decision-making.”
Becoming “Dayton’s Dr. Fauci”
Just as frequent as the phone calls were the interview requests. Dr. Weinstein served as one of three Kettering clinical leaders—along with Drs. Pook (emergency medicine physician) and Lytle—who helped calm the public’s nerves and answered questions when news outlets requested an expert.
By spring, Dr. Weinstein was doing, at least, three interviews a week. The entire year prior, he did three interviews total.
Dr. Weinstein was becoming something of a household name. In July, at the counter of a bank in Dayton, a teller said to Dr. Weinstein, “I see you on TV all the time.”
His friends even began to jokingly call him “Dayton’s Dr. Fauci.”
By the end of 2020, Dr. Weinstein had done more than 100 interviews.
The summer surge and winter peak
In July, the U.S. had seen 3 million COVID-19 infections. And names like Pfizer and Moderna joined nightly news cycles.
That same month, Dr. Weinstein transitioned to a new position: network patient safety officer. As Dr. Weinstein stepped into this role, Kettering medical centers received a surge of COVID-19 patients.
Earlier in the spring, as medical centers implemented protocols around COVID-19, the number of COVID-19 patients at Kettering was relatively low. But from June through August, COVID units filled with patients. And Dr. Weinstein saw more friends and colleagues getting sick.
The clinical executive council shifted focus. As summer’s heat made way to fall’s breeze, Dr. Weinstein met virtually with the others to discuss capacity and resources—and to begin planning for the potential of a vaccine by the year’s end.
In October, news of a possible vaccine offered a glimmer of life beyond the pandemic. Even so, COVID-19’s presence was clearer than ever. COVID-19–positive cases climbed throughout the Miami Valley, including at Kettering Health’s medical centers.
That month, a doctor in the Dayton area—a prominent cardiologist—died from COVID-19–related complications. Dr. Weinstein knew the doctor well.
By winter, Kettering’s COVID-19 numbers peaked. In late December, nearly 30% of the network’s patients were COVID-19 patients.
Inching toward the year’s end
As COVID-19 units filled, the human element never left Dr. Weinstein’s or the other leaders’ minds. Their concerns spread among the nurses and physicians on the frontlines, the EMTs and those transporting patients, and their own families and friends. “My wife is also a physician, so I was worried about her getting exposed.”
As the year inched toward Christmas and New Year’s, a weary world got a dose of encouragement. On Dec. 11, the FDA authorized emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. A week later, Moderna’s vaccine received emergency use authorization.
Dr. Weinstein and other Kettering leaders got to work, ensuring Kettering staff and the communities they serve could receive the vaccine smoothly when the time came.
By Dec. 31, a return to normal (or some version of it) seemed beyond the fresh start a new year brings. Headlines of a COVID-19 variant circulated, and most hospitals throughout the country were still spread thin. It had been a long, hard, and costly year, including in the Miami Valley.
The year ended the way it seemed to begin: COVID-19 dominated in headlines and hospitals.
As 2021 began, Dr. Weinstein and other leaders remained committed to providing the Miami Valley with trusted voices, helping communities navigate life shaped by a virus that hadn’t existed two year prior.
Before he was Dr. Weinstein
Back in his office, Dr. Weinstein turns back to his monitors—and his full inbox. He has a new email for an interview later that day. The iPad and lighting equipment are put away. Through the window, late March skies dwell over cars trekking down Interstate 75 South. And the photo from 1992 of a younger Dr. Weinstein hangs next to it.
A few years prior that photo, before he was a doctor, Weinstein sat at a table in Boston. He gathered with other honors medical-school students for a dinner following an event at Tufts University School of Medicine for Alpha Omega Alpha.
Dr. Weinstein sat next to the event’s main speaker, the director of the National Institute of Aids and Infectious Disease: Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Neither of them could have anticipated how they would be called upon three decades later as the country was turned upside down by a pandemic. And a young Jeffrey Weinstein, still a medical-school student, could never have imagined becoming one of the needed, recognized, and trusted voices in the Miami Valley during a dark chapter of confusion and isolation.
A new normal and a post-pandemic world
Last week, on July 2, mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions lifted in Ohio. For many, it’s been a chance to exhale. For others, they wonder how to safely return to life’s pre-pandemic rhythms. As all Ohioans find their footing on the new path of a post-pandemic world, a reminder dwells like March’s skies: it’s no accident a new normal is finally arriving.
It’s a new normal made possible by the sacrifices—the long days and longer nights, missed birthdays and graduations, tough calls made and tougher phone calls received—of hundreds of thousands of frontline workers.
And it’s a path being cleared by leaders like Dr. Pook, Dr. Lytle, Carol Applegeet, Jen Shull, John Weimer, Brenda Kuhn, Mark Rita, and Dr. Weinstein, sometimes referred to as “Dayton’s Dr. Fauci,” who have led—and will continue to lead—with both expertise and empathy.