USF St. Petersburg MBA Grad, a Medical Doctor in the Reserves, Runs Toward the Pandemic Fire in NYC
By Keith Morelli
TAMPA (July 10, 2020) -- The battleground for U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Raja Talati over the past couple of months wasn’t the mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of Iraq, but the hallways and intensive care units of Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx.
The medical doctor, who is a December graduate of the MBA program at the USF campus in St. Petersburg, practices in Port St Lucie at a nonprofit health care chain and is part of the Air Force’s 927th Refueling Wing reserve unit headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
He was called to duty in April, when New York City was the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis and Jacobi was the center of the epicenter. For Talati, this duty was no less heart-wrenching than treating soldiers wounded in battle.
“It was tough,” he said. “It was especially a big deal for me taking care of people who didn’t have family to care for them. It was difficult holding hands with someone you don’t know who is dying. That was tough for me.”
Even patients who had family were not allowed to have physical contact with them.
“They couldn’t be with family with last few breaths of life,” he said, “and as family physician that’s important to me.”
Talati said he and other medical personnel from reserves representing all the armed services were sent to New York City in April and spent two months there. They all had to leave family and work behind.
“That’s one of our callings,” he said. “We have to leave on a dime, leave a wife and family and we’re out the door.” They took a military transport plane from MacDill to New York and were bused into New York City. The next day, they were in the hospitals treating patients. “Logistically, it was an amazing job.”
The Jacobi Medical Center was overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients over that time, Talati said.
“They had been working on this since early March,” he said. “They welcomed us. Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx at the time had the highest fatality rate in the city. They lost some of their own and some of the faculty (and staff) were afraid to come in.
“We filled that role,” he said. “The residents there were amazing. I was unfamiliar with COVID-19, so we all helped each other out.” Working from April 4 and returning on June 5 did have an impact.
“Our support system was that we had each other,” he said. “This was difficult. Typically I would go to the gym or hang out with my buddies or just go out to dinner. There, you couldn’t see each other. At the hospital yes, but not otherwise.”
Connecting with his family also was important. “My family learned how to use Zoom and Google Chat and on Saturdays and Sundays, the whole family participated. That was good, it certainly helped.”
Having a front-row seat to the devastation caused by the disease, Talati echoed the recommendations made by the CDC. You don’t want to be exposed to this virus, he said.
“Everybody (the general public) has done good job, but always there are folks who don’t want to comply,” he said. “It’s simple: face masks reduce the spread, wash your hands and practice social distancing. This is not rocket science. Not following the recommendations is how we’re spreading it.
“I like to go to sports, but I’ve got to be like everybody else and distance myself,” he said. “I’m a big soccer fan and games are still happening on television, even with fake people in the stands. I also play hockey, but you can’t play with masks on. Maybe curling, but not hockey.”
Getting the word out to young people is also important and what he learned in his MBA courses in analytics gave him an insight into the best ways to solve these types of problems.
“Let numbers speak for themselves,” he said. “How do we mitigate this? Here’s one way: Youngsters are always on phones. We should use that as medium to relay how things should be done. How to apply analytics to what we see right now.” Getting the word out and educating the public, particularly young people, on best practices can go a long way to reining in this problem, he said, especially in densely populated areas like New York City.
“They’re packed in like sardines there,” he said. “When you live so close together you need to take proper precautions. We must look at behavioral patterns to see what people are doing.”
Sharing best medical practices also will help and medical professionals are doing what they can.
“Every Friday,” he said, “Jacobi Medical Center put out new algorithms and I shared that knowledge with hospitals in Miami. Data is important. All stakeholders must be involved in collecting and sharing accurate data.”