Category: Currents

Sports in Society Helping kids get in the game

Playing by the costly rules of youth sports

Growing economic inequality and dwindling school budgets are creating barriers for kids who want to participate in organized sports. A school in Houston is aiming to narrow the gap and give their kids a shot on the field.

Did You Know? Tap to expand
Only 22% of kids ages 6 to 12 in households with annual incomes under $25,000 played sports on a regular basis, compared to 43% of kids from homes earning $100,000 or more. Source: The Aspen Institute

“The conversation I have with my coaches every year is, ‘Our equipment budget is zero. Let’s go find it,’” says Carlos Quintero, head coach and athletics coordinator at Houston’s Sharpstown High School.

Quintero spent eight years coaching women’s basketball at his alma mater, the prestigious, monied Rice University, where the question of resources and equipment rarely came into play. When he began working about 20 minutes southwest of Rice as the athletic coordinator at Sharpstown High in 2010, Quintero soon realized the difficulties of guiding a new group of student-athletes who faced many challenges before getting an opportunity to step on the field of play. Motivating his players to work hard and give it their all was useless when they didn’t even have the equipment they needed to participate in sports. 

Youth athlete sponsored by Good Sports. Photo courtesy of Good Sports

“At Sharpstown, we unfortunately don’t have a booster club,” says Quintero. “So, we essentially function as coaches and booster club fundraisers.” 

Booster clubs — groups of parents and alumni who fundraise for athletics programs — are ubiquitous at the college level, and nearly as common within the cutthroat world of Texas high school sports. But Sharpstown, named for its southwest Houston neighborhood, is part of a community where many families struggle to make ends meet, never mind fundraising for under-resourced public school programs. According to stats compiled by the National Center of Education Statistics, 95% of Sharpstown students meet the economic eligibility requirements to receive free lunch; many are, as Quintero puts it, “newcomers,” meaning they arrived in the United States less than 18 months ago — often from Mexico and countries in Central America, but also from Somalia, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and more. 

For students at a school like Sharpstown, having the means to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities can be considered a luxury. “Unfortunately, youth sports has become a situation of haves and have-nots,” says Christy Keswick, co-founder and COO of Good Sports, a national nonprofit that supplies equipment for underfunded youth sports programs. America’s growing economic inequality and shrinking school budgets have manifested in an increasingly privatized and exclusive youth sports infrastructure. 

According to a 2020 survey conducted by the Aspen Institute, the average American family spends $903 a year on their children’s participation in sports between participation fees, equipment, travel and other miscellaneous costs. It is unsurprising, then, that according to that same survey, children from low-income families are half as likely as those from high-income families to participate in sports — a discrepancy Keswick and Good Sports’ partners, like Quintero and Sharpstown, are aiming to correct.

Youth athlete sponsored by Good Sports. Photo courtesy of Good Sports

“This is fixable — this is not something that can’t be solved,” says Keswick. “We’re taking away opportunities from kids who really need them. But until we change the mindset about how sports are an important part of the overall well-being of a child and part of their education, they’re always going to be at risk.”

Sharpstown has been one of the organization’s partners since 2013, helping close the gap between what Quintero and his fellow coaches are able to fundraise, what the school is able to match, and what his students need. He and his coaches work overtime — at a minimum, they’re paid for 10 months a year and work 12, aiming to keep their kids active and provide summer camps for the next generation of Sharpstown athletes — and Keswick and her colleagues try to match that ethic and sense of purpose. Most of the people applying for aid from Good Sports are either volunteers or severely underpaid, driven by their desire to help kids in their community, as well as overworked parents without the time or resources to give their kids a shot on the field.

Good Sports’ model hinges on connecting directly with major athletic equipment manufacturers for donations, and then getting that new equipment to local organizations and schools that need it. “A lot of times, the kids may have never had a brand new piece of equipment, or pair of cleats,” Keswick adds. “There is something to be said about that feeling.”

It might account for some of the growing participation that Quintero has seen in sports at Sharpstown since he started — especially among the girls — but it seems more likely that the energy he and his fellow coaches bring to the school is drawing them in, the energy that and programs like Good Sports allows them to focus that energy on coaching instead of fundraising.

As Quintero puts it, “Through athletics, we’ve been able to show our kids, ‘Look, If you commit, people are going to show up for you.’”

Edited by iPondr Assigning Editor A.R. Shaw

Originally published on ipondr.com July 21, 2021

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Contributor

Natalie Weiner

Sports in Society

Deconstructing superstitions and rituals in sports

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Sports in Society Helping kids get in the game

Free sports equipment helps low-income kids get in the game

A Maryland physical education teacher was struggling with a bare-bones equipment budget, and a college equipment manager based in New York saw extra gear collecting dust. Problem, meet solution.

Did You Know? Tap to expand
Only 22% of kids ages 6 to 12 in households with annual incomes under $25,000 played sports on a regular basis, compared to 43% of kids from homes earning $100,000 or more. Source: The Aspen Institute

Padmini Parthasarathy
Youth sports are important. They help kids blow off energy, make friends, work in teams, and stay healthy. But low-income families deal with barriers that make it hard to get their kids in sports. Equipment is one huge cost. One group called Leveling the Playing Field, which works in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland, is helping do just that. Here’s the story.

Steve Lightman
My name is Steve Lightman. I am an elementary school physical education teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland. I get everybody, I get everybody from kindergarten up through fifth grade. And in the past, I’ve also taught sixth grade.

Padmini Parthasarathy
Steve has been teaching elementary school PE for 20 years. For most of that time, his equipment budget was very tight. 

Steve Lightman
I always tell the same story. My last year teaching in Prince George’s County, Maryland, the equipment that I had was…I’m going to give you the list: It was maybe four footballs, five soccer balls, two or three playground balls, a handful of donated equipment from the Washington Capitals. And I’ll never forget the year, my principal says to me, what would you like to order for this year, and I give her a list of like $1,000 worth of stuff. And I come back in the following year, which was my last year in Prince George’s County, and I’m like, “So what were we able to get,” and she’s like, “Nothing.”

Padmini Parthasarathy
Max Levitt started to become aware of a surplus of equipment during his time as equipment manager for Syracuse University; they were throwing away old equipment to make room for new models. 

Max Levitt
I would come home for my summers—I worked a lot in youth sports locally—and notice not so much equipment being thrown away, but a lot of collecting of dust. So, a lot of families garages with equipment that have been sitting there. You know, they had kids who were in their 30s and 40s, and they still had their kids’ stuff sitting in their garage. Or it was private schools with PE closets full of stuff that hadn’t been touched in 10 years. The realization that from elementary-aged kids all the way up to college and professional athletes, there was a huge amount of waste. 

Max Levitt

Max Levitt, the founder and executive director of Leveling the Playing Field. (Photo courtesy of Max Levitt)

Padmini Parthasarathy
Leveling the Playing Field is his way to get this equipment—the stuff that’s gathering dust in garages and private school PE closets—to PE teachers like Steve. 

Max Levitt
The way our office is set up is you come through the office, and then through a door and you’re in the warehouse, where you can see the volume of stuff that we have. So, for us, it’s that reaction when they open the door from the office to the warehouse, and they see the volume of equipment that they will have access to.

Leveling the Playing Field Warehouse

Leveling the Playing Field Warehouse in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo courtesy of Max Levitt.)

Padmini Parthasarathy
Steve has become well-acquainted with that warehouse over the years.  

Steve Lightman
I walked in and it was a PE teachers’ dream. I mean, it’s this warehouse of countless numbers of basketballs and footballs and playground balls and baseball bats and hockey equipment, and lacrosse sticks. Just everything you can imagine. I mean it was like machines where you put the ball on and it pitches the ball for you! Just so much stuff and it was like being in a toy store. And I’m like, “OK, well, how much can I take? Like, I don’t want to be greedy.” This is like my first time here. I don’t want to take too much. And he’s like, “No, like, it’s here for you. Like take whatever you want.” And I did, I probably walked out that day with 40 different types of balls, whether it be football, basketball, soccer, kickball, playground ball, whatever. And now suddenly, that’s $400 that I had in my budget that I can spend somewhere else. And it was amazing.

Padmini Parthasarathy
Leveling the Playing Field works with PE teachers in underfunded school districts, primarily. But also, after-school programs—for example, a youth Special Olympic-style hockey league on a shoe-string budget, and parents who are looking for a way to get their kids equipment for after-school sports programs. 

Max Levitt
Between our two warehouses, we probably have around 400 programs come into our warehouse in a given year. We don’t limit how often they come. So once you’re approved, you are able to use our warehouse as often as you want. 

PE especially you know, elementary and middle school PE is grossly underfunded countrywide. It’s not that the PE teacher can’t teach baseball, lacrosse, volleyball, field hockey, you name it. And it’s not that they don’t have the facilities. A lot of them have a field where they can teach baseball, and they know how to do it. It’s just with their limited budgets, they’re not able to go out and buy the materials, right? If you’re going to get 11 sets of baseball equipment so that you can have all the gloves, the bats, the helmets, the balls, the bases, everything you would need to run baseball programming during PE or after school, I mean you’re talking thousands of dollars for baseball equipment when they don’t even have that for their full-year budget. And that’s being burned on the essentials like cones, pinnies, playground balls, buffing the floor, transportation, insurance, all these other things, it’s not something they’re able to do.

There are a lot of schools in Montgomery County, where they do great with athletics with that budget. And then there are some schools that really struggle. The reason for that is—some schools in well-off areas have PTA and booster clubs. There’s a school near our warehouse that has a PTA that does $100,000+ just on an online auction. And that is more than enough to fund their athletics beyond the budget, right? But when you talk about the low-income schools that don’t have PTAs and booster clubs, that’s where you see kids selling donuts on the side of the road, or just collecting change in a bucket to try to get new basketball uniforms, or pay for the bus for a season. Right? Not going to help them expand their athletic program, at all. And that’s where you see a lot of this inequity. It’s not like one school gets a different budget than the other. It’s just that one school has the ability to raise money in a way that the other school does not.

Padmini Parthasarathy
Steve has seen it firsthand.

Steve Lightman
I’d say 75% of my teaching career has been in high FARMs populations, a lot of students on free and reduced meals, parents are working multiple jobs at all ends of the day. And these students just don’t have the money to play these sports outside of school. And now, having the equipment at least opens that door for them.

Padmini Parthasarathy
PE teachers are a direct line to families; they can help get the equipment to kids who want to play outside of school. Like Steve says, the job of a PE teacher is not just to teach basic skills, but also to get kids motivated to play sports. Equipment is a huge cost barrier. Groups like Leveling the Playing Field help with that, but there are many other costs that stop low-income kids from being able to play the sport they want to play. 

Max Levitt
The driver is the privatization. You got the tournaments now, you’ve got the travel leagues, you got these huge sports facilities out in the suburbs that are like major complexes with multiple baseball fields, soccer fields, ice rinks, and they’re really nice, and that’s great. But it’s definitely built an inequity that needs to be paid attention to.

Recreation used to run really high-quality sports and it was free or really cheap. They would provide the equipment, they own the fields like they run the fields and the facilities, and they have staff who could do coaching. And I think, to me, the answer is public recreation, being funded to a level where they can fill a lot of these needs, right? If you had a high-quality public recreation league, you’d see even some middle-high income families saying, “Look, I don’t need to pay 500 bucks for my kid to play baseball, like I’ll just put them in the rec league,” I think you would see that generate a level of competition that might drive the price down, but at the very least, would provide an affordable and accessible option to low-income kids.

Oftentimes what happens in low-income communities is they’re exposed to basketball and football and cheerleading for girls. Like it’s crazy. And you might have a kid who doesn’t like basketball and football but would’ve really liked soccer or baseball. Or a girl who doesn’t want to cheerlead, she wants to play lacrosse. Because the school is not offering some of these less mainstream sports, they’re never going to play.

Padmini Parthasarathy
Free equipment means a shot at playing, where it was a non-starter before. 

Steve Lightman
I always think to myself, if he had been around when I was a kid, I would have played hockey as a kid. Because the reason I never played hockey as a kid was because my parents were just like, “Listen, we know you like it, but we’re not going to buy $500 worth of hockey pads. You know, we don’t have that kind of money to do this, you know, and let you play hockey.” But if I was born, like my kids are, you know, eight years ago, and I can’t afford $500 to play hockey, I’m calling up Max and saying, “Hey, can you help me out?” and he’s got the skates, and he’s got the pads, and he has the sticks. And he has everything.

Steve Lightman

Steve Lightman, Physical Education Teacher in Rockville, Maryland. (Photo courtesy of Steve Lightman)

Padmini Parthasarathy
For Max and Steve, sports are personal. Free equipment means access to some of the best memories a kid can have—playing, making friends, and having a chance to be a part of a team. 

Steve Lightman
I can’t wait for Friday to go play softball, because I love being out there with my team. And I love being out there, just giving it my all and trying my best.

In fact, this quarter part of my unit is talking about rules, in like a social setting, and we’re teaching the kids right now when you play games, how do you make it safe? How do you make it fun? How do you make it fair? And how do you make it inclusive? It can’t be inclusive if half the people that want to play can’t do it, just because they don’t have the equipment. 

Max Levitt
I was fortunate to be able to try a lot of sports. I’m still friends with kids that I met playing sports, I have memories from winning championships. A lot of my childhood was based around it. So, to know that a lot of kids because of economics are not able to have childhood worth of experiences like that, that bothers me, and that’s pretty much why I do what I do. 

I mean the parents who have to deal with the stress of a kid coming home and who “Mom, Dad, I want to play soccer, or baseball or football.” And the cost of equipment is prohibitive. And the parents have to go back to the kid and say, “I’m sorry, but we can’t afford for you to play a sport.” So when they can access the equipment for free, their reaction is one of incredible relief, because they can finally say yes.

Padmini Parthasarathy
For iPondr, I’m Padmini Parthasarathy. 

Edited by iPondr audio editor Carolina Correa

Featured Photo: Max Levitt taking in donations for Leveling the Playing Field. (Photo courtesy of Max Levitt.)

Originally published on ipondr.com July 21, 2021

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Padmini Parthasarathy

Sports in Society

Deconstructing superstitions and rituals in sports

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Sports in Society Helping kids get in the game

Playing by the costly rules of youth sports

Growing economic inequality and dwindling school budgets are creating barriers for kids who want to participate in organized sports. A school in Houston is aiming to narrow the gap and give their kids a shot on the field.

Did You Know? Tap to expand
Only 22% of kids ages 6 to 12 in households with annual incomes under $25,000 played sports on a regular basis, compared to 43% of kids from homes earning $100,000 or more. Source: The Aspen Institute

“The conversation I have with my coaches every year is, ‘Our equipment budget is zero. Let’s go find it,’” says Carlos Quintero, head coach and athletics coordinator at Houston’s Sharpstown High School.

Quintero spent eight years coaching women’s basketball at his alma mater, the prestigious, monied Rice University, where the question of resources and equipment rarely came into play. When he began working about 20 minutes southwest of Rice as the athletic coordinator at Sharpstown High in 2010, Quintero soon realized the difficulties of guiding a new group of student-athletes who faced many challenges before getting an opportunity to step on the field of play. Motivating his players to work hard and give it their all was useless when they didn’t even have the equipment they needed to participate in sports. 

Youth athlete sponsored by Good Sports. Photo courtesy of Good Sports

“At Sharpstown, we unfortunately don’t have a booster club,” says Quintero. “So, we essentially function as coaches and booster club fundraisers.” 

Booster clubs — groups of parents and alumni who fundraise for athletics programs — are ubiquitous at the college level, and nearly as common within the cutthroat world of Texas high school sports. But Sharpstown, named for its southwest Houston neighborhood, is part of a community where many families struggle to make ends meet, never mind fundraising for under-resourced public school programs. According to stats compiled by the National Center of Education Statistics, 95% of Sharpstown students meet the economic eligibility requirements to receive free lunch; many are, as Quintero puts it, “newcomers,” meaning they arrived in the United States less than 18 months ago — often from Mexico and countries in Central America, but also from Somalia, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and more. 

For students at a school like Sharpstown, having the means to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities can be considered a luxury. “Unfortunately, youth sports has become a situation of haves and have-nots,” says Christy Keswick, co-founder and COO of Good Sports, a national nonprofit that supplies equipment for underfunded youth sports programs. America’s growing economic inequality and shrinking school budgets have manifested in an increasingly privatized and exclusive youth sports infrastructure. 

According to a 2020 survey conducted by the Aspen Institute, the average American family spends $903 a year on their children’s participation in sports between participation fees, equipment, travel and other miscellaneous costs. It is unsurprising, then, that according to that same survey, children from low-income families are half as likely as those from high-income families to participate in sports — a discrepancy Keswick and Good Sports’ partners, like Quintero and Sharpstown, are aiming to correct.

Youth athlete sponsored by Good Sports. Photo courtesy of Good Sports

“This is fixable — this is not something that can’t be solved,” says Keswick. “We’re taking away opportunities from kids who really need them. But until we change the mindset about how sports are an important part of the overall well-being of a child and part of their education, they’re always going to be at risk.”

Sharpstown has been one of the organization’s partners since 2013, helping close the gap between what Quintero and his fellow coaches are able to fundraise, what the school is able to match, and what his students need. He and his coaches work overtime — at a minimum, they’re paid for 10 months a year and work 12, aiming to keep their kids active and provide summer camps for the next generation of Sharpstown athletes — and Keswick and her colleagues try to match that ethic and sense of purpose. Most of the people applying for aid from Good Sports are either volunteers or severely underpaid, driven by their desire to help kids in their community, as well as overworked parents without the time or resources to give their kids a shot on the field.

Good Sports’ model hinges on connecting directly with major athletic equipment manufacturers for donations, and then getting that new equipment to local organizations and schools that need it. “A lot of times, the kids may have never had a brand new piece of equipment, or pair of cleats,” Keswick adds. “There is something to be said about that feeling.”

It might account for some of the growing participation that Quintero has seen in sports at Sharpstown since he started — especially among the girls — but it seems more likely that the energy he and his fellow coaches bring to the school is drawing them in, the energy that and programs like Good Sports allows them to focus that energy on coaching instead of fundraising.

As Quintero puts it, “Through athletics, we’ve been able to show our kids, ‘Look, If you commit, people are going to show up for you.’”

Edited by iPondr Assigning Editor A.R. Shaw

Originally published on ipondr.com July 21, 2021

Share your thoughts

Contributor

Natalie Weiner

Sports in Society

Deconstructing superstitions and rituals in sports

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Helping kids get in the game

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Sports in Society

Access to youth sports: A toolkit

The @Work Toolkit is a collection of additional resources and tips that might be useful when discussing the topic with your team.

Further Insights

Youth ages 6 to 18 from low-income households quit sports due to financial costs six times the rate than children from high-income households, according to a 2020 survey by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative and Utah State University’s Families in Sport Lab.

One of the main reasons parents from low-income homes cited were time constraints. This is often related to family responsibilities, such as looking after siblings or having a job, as well as transportation logistics in order to attend practice and games. 

In addition, household income also had a correlation with the type of sports children played. Youth from high-income homes were twice as likely to play the following sports: field hockey, lacrosse and tennis, or engage in skiing or snowboarding. Whereas children from low-income families were more likely to play tackle football and basketball. Children from all households, regardless of income, played gymnastics, skateboarding, swimming, track and field and wrestling at similar rates.

According to Travis Dorsch, the lead investigator on the Aspen study, “While most sports remain relatively accessible, it is evident that certain sports are easier for low-income youth to engage in while others are more aligned with high-income families.”

Did You Know

According to a 2020 report by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative, 87.1% of parents surveyed said that they felt their kids playing sports led to desired outcomes related to mental health, physical health, fun, social skills and peer relationships.

Source: Aspen Institute’s Project Play

How to talk about access and privilege

Boost self-efficacy and hope. Bolster agency by offering choices in how to interact. Allow people in a room to step in and out of a discussion. They should feel free to take breaks as needed. Conclude any sessions with plenty of time for sharing a positive reflection or area for growth. Encourage everyone to say something positive that they learned from another person. Include closure statements or exit cards like, “Something I learned today…” or “I really like what [insert name] had to say today…”

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Sports in Society

Helping kids get in the game

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Points of View Coping with grief and loss

Reflections from doctor who treated patient one in U.S.

‘We were fighting for every single life.’ In January 2020, Dr. George Diaz became the doctor who tended the first-known U.S. case at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash.

Did You Know? Tap to expand
A March 2021 poll from the Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about 1 in 5 people, or 20% surveyed in the U.S., had lost a relative or close friend to Covid-19.

Mitra Bonshahi
Dr. George Diaz is an infectious disease specialist in Everett, Washington. A little over a year ago, he treated the first-known patient with Covid-19 in the U.S. He shares his experience of being on the front lines and his hopes for the next year. 

George Diaz
From a young age, I really enjoyed thinking about infectious diseases. I was 10 or 12 years old, and my parents bought me a microscope for my birthday. I started doing all sorts of experiments on bacteria and looking for little parasites where I could find them. I got really interested in things that were tiny, and actually ended up majoring in microbiology. It was always something that I found really interesting. 

Infectious disease specialist Dr. George Diaz treated the first-known patient with Covid-19 in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett)

You know, thinking about infectious diseases as a career was something that came naturally. There’s very few fields in medicine, I think, where there literally are new things that are happening all the time and new diseases and new challenges.

Even in my lifetime, we’ve had diseases that have developed like HIV, MERS, SARS, dengue, chikungunya virus, swine flu, now coronavirus. 

People that choose to do infectious disease, just have a blank book, that you can really find your own way and do what you love and find interesting, and I think that’s pretty rare in medicine in general. 

I think I heard about the initial outbreak in Wuhan in early December. Within infectious diseases, we hear about outbreaks occurring all over the world. And it’s a little hard to know exactly how serious some of these are, and how much it will actually impact us. And so we knew that it was happening in Wuhan. And in the Seattle area, there’s a huge Asian population, and there’re direct flights from Seattle to basically almost anywhere in Asia. So we knew that, more than likely, that if this did leave China that it was going to be probably hitting one of our hospitals first. We didn’t really know, at the time, the degree of contagiousness. We didn’t know the mortality rates, so we assumed the worst and prepared for Ebola. 

You know, how would we accept somebody essentially with Ebola coming into our hospital? And then I got a call from our infection preventionist at the hospitals. And she told me that we had been notified by the CDC that the first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed, and that the CDC wanted to submit the patient. 

At that point, we decided that, yeah, the best way to do this would be to activate our Ebola team. It took us about two hours from the time we sent the page out to have everything ready to have the patient arrive. 

We tried to make him feel at ease as much as possible. He was in like super isolation, right? You can imagine being on the other side of that, where everyone’s treating you like you’ve got this horribly deadly disease. Anyone would be very worried about the situation. But we did our best, I think, to make him feel at peace and comfortable. 

Around the fifth day into his hospitalization, our patient started developing pneumonia. He started requiring oxygen. He started looking worse. That was very concerning not only for him, but for me, also. Coincident with that, the CDC discussed a novel treatment for coronavirus. This drug remdesivir, which had been studied on Ebola. It was known to be safe. So our patient became the first person in the world to receive remdesivir (for Covid). I stuck around while the infusion was given to make sure he didn’t have any reactions and once he looked like he tolerated the first infusion fine, I went home for the night. Really, not knowing what was gonna happen, and worried that I was gonna get woken up at midnight, saying he was getting worse. Thankfully, they let me sleep through the night. 

And the next morning, I went over to the hospital and he was much better, which was great news. Over the next couple of days, he felt like he was back to normal essentially, and wanting to go home. So he went home, and I spoke to him a couple weeks ago and he’s doing great! He taught us a great deal about the disease, about this treatment, etc. 

When you are called to do something that you’re very well prepared to do, you just do it. There was no fear, there’s no panic, there’s no worry. It was, ‘OK, we know what we need to do here at our hospital. We know how to manage this.’ 

Pandemics are like a bad storm or any other natural thing that happens. You don’t know exactly when it’s gonna happen. But it’s gonna happen at some point. I was born to be here. This is what my goal in life was. And so, I would imagine it’s like a mission. Something similar when someone goes on a tour of duty. We were fighting for every single life. That’s our business. 

My hope for the next year would be that we all get vaccinated and rid ourselves of this pandemic. It’s going to require a national unified response to vaccination — that we’re capable of doing. I think that there’s been a lot of thoughtful people working to make things better, based on science. But there are elements in our society that are actively trying to harm us. And that needs to be met head-on with truth. 

When I look back on the experience, I think of the degree of heroism of certain people. There are people out there that work in my hospital that know that there’s someone with an infection that’s contagious and could kill them if they got infected — and still come to work every day, and go into the rooms with those patients every day, and comfort them and help them get through their illness. They are heroic, and that heroism is something that will stick with me forever.

Mitra Bonshahi
For iPondr, I’m Mitra Bonshahi.

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR
Alex Charner is a Caracas-born, Atlanta-based illustrator and communication trainer. As a student and artist in Dalvero Academy, Alex was part of the team of artists who documented the rebuilding and launch of the Charles W. Morgan wooden whaling ship at Mystic Seaport. Trained as a réportage or on-the-spot illustrator; Alex sees drawing as a powerful language to document events, tell stories and build connections.

Originally published on iPondr.com May 11th, 2021

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Mitra Bonshahi

Points of View

A portrait of George Floyd Square

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Helping kids get in the game

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Dimensions of Health Coping with grief and loss

Pandemic stress daunting for health professionals

Turmoil and upheaval raise levels of anxiety, fear and isolation. Doctors heed their advice to patients: Meditate, rest, exercise and remember: ‘We will get through this.’

Did You Know? Tap to expand
A March 2021 poll from the Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about 1 in 5 people, or 20% surveyed in the U.S., had lost a relative or close friend to Covid-19.

Every day begins with a 10-minute meditation for Dr. Marcela Almeida. 

“I have to prioritize my own mental health,” said the psychiatrist, “before I can even think about my patients.” 

Almeida specializes in women’s health and is on the staff at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which is a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. “I have always done this,” she said about meditation. “Now (during the pandemic), it’s imperative.”

In 2018, Locum – an agency dedicated to doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who freelance in hospitals and medical practices worldwide – surveyed more than 3,700 physicians in various specialties. The survey showed that while more than half of those physicians reported their workload had affected their mental health, only 17% sought help. Two-thirds said they would not consider meeting with a mental health professional at all. 

Dr. Marcela Almeida, a psychiatrist who specializes in women’s mental health and is on the staff at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, begins each day with a meditation. “I have always done this,” she said about meditation. “Now (during the pandemic), it’s imperative.” (Photo courtesy of Dr. Marcela Almeida)

In this same study, 53% of the physicians felt mental health is a taboo subject because of the stigma of mental illness in the medical community, fears of professional reprisal and ultimate loss of a medical license. These same themes were cited in the case of Dr. Lorna Breen, who supervised the emergency room at New York City’s Presbyterian Allen Hospital, and died by suicide on April 26, 2020.

“Doctors are trained to witness death and dying, but it’s never been on this scale, even for those who served in war zones,” Almeida said. 

But the constant barrage of deaths is overwhelming. Plus, she said, the virus is unpredictable. “There are 40-year-olds with no comorbidities (meaning two or more serious medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes) who don’t survive,” she said, “and 74-year-olds with a litany of ailments who walk out after a few days. 

“It’s frustrating. We feel helpless,” Almeida said. 

Another constant source of anxiety for physicians and other medical professionals is the risk of spreading the virus to others. J. Anthony Parchue, a retina surgeon in Southlake, Texas, near Dallas, fears for his loved ones. 

“My No. 1 fear is contracting the virus and bringing it home to my family,” Parchue said. “At the end of the day, I go from the garage to the laundry room and remove everything – keys, wallet, glasses, pens, lab coat, scrubs – and sanitize them. Then I use the back stairs to (get to the bathroom and) shower.”

A source of anxiety for physicians and other medical professionals is the risk of spreading the virus to others. J. Anthony Parchue, a retina surgeon in Southlake, Texas, near Dallas, fears for his loved ones, and says spreading the virus is his No. 1 worry.

Some physicians said the lack of reliable child care amplifies the challenges they’ve been enduring for more than a year.

“There’s no longer a separation between work and home,” said Tina Charest, a family medicine practitioner with offices in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. “(For example) I’m trying to talk to a patient using telehealth while also trying to get my kid situated on Zoom. It’s challenging.” 

Charest and her husband, a cardiologist, have two daughters ages 4 and 7. The couple has been able to work out schedules that allow them to work and take care of their children. 

“I feel our girls have had to grow up much too fast,” Charest said. “And yet, I know these are extraordinary circumstances, and as a mom, I’ve given myself a pass.”

Almeida considers herself fortunate because her three children’s schools have remained open two days a week until lunch. “I can’t leave my office to go get my children,” she said. “We’ve had to hire someone to pick them up from school on those days.” 

To cope with the exhaustion, despair and uncertainty of the pandemic, medical professionals have turned not only to meditation (Almeida’s preference) but other forms of stress release.  

Emily Swilling, a pediatrician who is part of a large practice with five offices along the north shore of Massachusetts, decompresses by making furniture, sewing, and painting. She also has taken on home-improvement projects. 

For Charest, running is the stress reliever of choice. Before Covid-19, she was training for a  marathon. “For me, running is like meditation,” she explained. “I’m out in nature, and (the rhythmic motion) gets me completely out of my head.”  

Originally published on iPondr.com May 11th, 2021

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Angie Chatman

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