PRESIDENT’S NOTE

BENJAMIN DEAL, DMD (’74)

Chairman of the Board

To say that 2020 has given the world, the United States and the Medical College of Georgia our share of surprises would be an understatement. I am so proud of our students for holding their heads high, studying hard and staying positive while celebrations like the long-anticipated graduation ceremony became a virtual event and classes went online. During this pandemic, racial and ethnic inequities came to the forefront and gave us a reminder that old wounds need healing and understanding, and acceptance needs to occur.

This pandemic has also been a reminder of the importance of medicine and the hard work done daily by healthcare providers. The Medical College of Georgia received praise on a national  level for our quick response to the virus with research and testing and the Dental College of Georgia was praised for their use of 3-D print-ing technology to manufacture Covid-19 testing swabs. I have never been more honored to be an alumnus, for such a time as this.

Over the past three years, the Medical College of Georgia has given more than $1.5M to diversity scholarships to continue our tradition of making a high-quality medical education affordable for every student who wants to pursue medicine as a career. Starting with the class of 2024, the MCG 3+ initiative will encourage students to create an individualized medical education, allowing them to complete medical school in three years rather than four, with student loan debt forgiveness if they choose  to start their career in a rural area of Georgia.

We continue to work on the real estate project on 15th Street that will be of immense value to the Medical College of Georgia and to the community and hopefully be able to provide a grocery store and community services that are much needed in the area.

It is with great optimism that I, along with our board and staff, look forward to 2021 and every opportunity to celebrate and encourage our students, and support the impact they will make on our country and our world.

I feel that when we look back on this season in our lives, we can all find a moment where we were proud of how we coped with the challenges we have faced during these unprecedented times.

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FISCAL YEAR 2020 MARKET OVERVIEW

Global equity markets ended fiscal year 2020 in positive territory after experiencing significant volatility throughout the year. While the first half of the fiscal year was relatively benign, the second half saw significant volatility and market declines as the seriousness of the health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was realized.

Global equity markets, as measured by the MSCI All Country World Index, ended the fiscal year returning +2.1%. The result was led by U.S. equity markets as non-US equity markets ended the fiscal year in negative territory. Global fixed income posted positive returns for the fiscal year, though due to a weakening U.S. dollar, international fixed income markets outperformed U.S. fixed income. Commodities and REITs posted the biggest declines for the fiscal year, ending the year with negative returns in the mid-teens.

The U.S. economy officially entered a recession in February, with the S&P 500 falling -34%. As a result of the March sell-off, major central banks quickly stepped in and provided aggressive measures to counteract the economic downturn. Re-cord stimulus by the Fed, including expanding its balance sheet by $3 trillion, forbearance programs, stimulus checks, and unemployment insurance benefits softened the blow from economic loss.

Looking forward, there are many significant risks that remain. The virus is not fully contained. In the U.S. and several emerging market countries, numbers of new COVID-19 infections continue to rise. There are also political risks, with the approaching U.S. election and escalating tensions between the U.S. and China. The Portfolio continues to be managed with these risks in mind, while also maintaining a focus on identifying opportunities.

SCHOLARSHIP SPOTLIGHT

Sydney Erickson

Sydney Erickson (’24) didn’t plan to make the decision about which medical school to attend in the middle of a pandemic, but as fate would have it, she did. When she received the news that she had earned a scholarship to the Medical College of Georgia, Erickson was able to tell her parents in person during quarantine. She made her announcement by summoning them to the kitchen with a text message. Erickson’s mother, Terry, said of her daughter’s achievement, “We are so honored that someone recognized her hard work and effort and sees in her what we, as biased parents, see in her.”

Erickson, who received an undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia in Athens, joked, “I’ve only lived in cities with names that started with an “A,” so choosing MCG in Augusta seemed to really make sense.” But that wasn’t the real reason she chose MCG and to move to Augusta. In addition to the outstanding reputation of MCG, she said, the lure of a scholarship and not

I think that I have been very lucky to go into a career that is needed more, not needed less, because of COVID-19.

having student loan debt after graduation would allow her to focus on pursuing a career in public health. Erickson knows that her area of focus is a specialty that won’t pay off with a high salary, but with rewards of a different kind. She first became interested in public health while at UGA and spending time volunteering with both Mercy Healthcare and the Peru Medical Maymester. While in Peru, she stayed with a host family, rotated in local hospitals alongside Peruvian medical students, and learned the basics of medical Spanish.

MCG also made Erickson’s list of schools because of her familiarity with the school and having several friends who had gone to MCG. In fact, she noted her gratitude to be sharing the title of Harrison Scholar with three of her middle school classmates from home. Settling into Augusta during this time has been different, but has had its upsides. The pandemic and its resulting closures have enabled her to learn a lot about her new city, especially its outdoorsy attractions. “I love being on the water and I love to read, so those are two positive things that came out of the quarantine,” she said. She also enjoys spending time with friends and family, which was abundant over the past few months. Looking at her future in public health, Erickson said, “I think that I have been very lucky to go into a career that is needed more, not needed less, because of COVID-19. My profession has highlighted the need for health literacy and health information.” Her grandmother, a nurse, is thrilled that Erickson has chosen a career in medicine after seeing her potential to thrive in a patient care setting. From a young age, her family saw her love for others, including children with special needs at her church in Alpharetta. Her grandmother said, “Her radar is set to understand what is happening with the people around her.”

As for her plans after medical school, Erickson hopes to settle in the south and continue to travel, including a rescheduled trip to Italy that was canceled due to the pandemic.

PERFORMANCE OVER TIME

The Medical College of Georgia Foundation’s portfolio (the “Portfolio”) grew to $249.6 million in the June 30, 2020 fiscal year. The Portfolio returned +2.4%, a result that is ahead of its asset class blended benchmark and global equity markets, despite being more broadly diversified and having a lower risk profile than global equity.

We are pleased with the Portfolio’s performance amidst a challenging year for financial markets, and believe the Portfolio is well-positioned in today’s market environment. We continue to maintain diversification across both traditional and alternative asset classes and have designed the portfolio to perform well in a variety of economic and market conditions.

ENDOWMENT VALUE

ASSET ALLOCATION

NEW LONG TERM ASSET ALLOCATION TARGETS

On July 23, 2020, the Investment Committee approved a revised investment policy statement with modified long-term strategic asset allocation targets. The targets continue to be designed to meet the Foundation’s long-term investment objective of maintaining purchasing power of the assets over time. The new policy remains rooted in the guiding principles of diversification, a careful approach to risk management, and emphasis on a long-term investment horizon.

  • Global Equities
  • Real Assets
  • Absolute Return
  • Global Fixed Income
  • Private Capital

The Mission of the Medical College of Georgia Foundation is to improve the quality of life of the people of Georgia, the nation, and the world by supporting the advancement of education, research, and patient care at the Medical College of Georgia.

Dr. Roy Witherington and Dr. Brooks Keel (Left to Right)

APPRECIATING THE PAST, SUSTAINING THE FUTURE.

Dr. Roy Witherington (‘53) has all the right credentials. He treated countless patients and performed advanced surgeries in his decades-long career as a practicing urologist. He spent over 30 years as a faculty member at the Medical College of Georgia and continues to make an impact on its students through his giving initiatives. In 2019, Augusta University honored him with its President’s Award, the highest award given by the institution to its friends and supporters.

His resume is as impressive as his longstanding history with MCG and his abiding love for the institution. While reflecting on his storied career at MCG over the years, Witherington never forgets the journey that led him to the place he considers “home.”

Witherington grew up on a farm near the small town of Pineview, Georgia, and describes his childhood years in Pineview as instrumental to his interest in medicine. “It was an interesting life. My father was a country veterinarian, which gave me a chance to see medicine in action.” Witherington had the chance to tag along on his father’s veterinary appointments and observe his work firsthand. “Dad and I were pretty close. One day, he said, ‘Roy, I want you to go to medical school,’ and you know what? I did — and the rest is history.”

He went on to enroll at MCG and completed his studies, then began training for his career in medicine. When asked about his fondest memory as a student at MCG, he replied with a laugh, “Graduating, I guess!” He went on to explain, “I have a lot of memories — it’s hard to pick one,” and shared about his memorable coursework under the instruction of the groundbreaking psychiatrist and Department of Psychiatry professor Dr. Corbett H. Thigpen. “He did some things that were absolutely amazing (for his field) as a psychiatrist.”

Witherington remained in Augusta for training, and when he considered a number of locations in which to begin his practice, a series of events led to him staying in Augusta. He opted to begin his career where he studied medicine and, bringing his experience full-circle, he joined the staff at MCG on a part-time basis. He was given the rare opportunity to split his time between private practice and MCG, joking, “I couldn’t get away.”

Dr. Robert Rinker, former chief of the urology section at MCG and Witherington’s mentor, was the force behind Witherington’s dual arrangement. Upon Rinker’s retirement, Witherington was selected to become his mentor’s successor in a full-time capacity as chief of the urology section. Looking back at his career at MCG, Witherington considers rising to the rank of professor and then head of the urology section his proudest accomplishment from his years of employment there. “I had a lot of investment in MCG,” he said.

He went on to reflect upon his progression from a medical student to the decades spent as a faculty member and urological surgeon. “MCG has really been my career, as you can tell. Not many people can say what I say about an institution,” said Witherington. It is a rarity for medical students to stay at the same school for their residency, but to remain at one place for medical school and training and then become a practicing physician and professor is truly unique.

Looking at the changes he has seen from his time as an MCG student until now, Witherington notes the growth of the school, which he calls “phenomenal,” as the most exciting development. “When I was in training it was very small, close-knit; now it’s big, with multiple institutions. At that time it was primarily medicine and nursing, but it’s grown exponentially.”

Of course, Witherington has had a hand in the advancement of his beloved alma mater. His tenure as a professor gave him a firsthand look at the future of the medical profession — his students. Having the ability to create scholarships and opportunities for students in need inspired Witherington to support MCG as a benefactor. When asked what motivated him to begin giving to the school, he said, “The scholarships, primarily. I knew there was a big expense involved in going to medical school and I knew there were people in need. I wanted to give help to people who need help.” His hope for the students who benefit from these scholarships is for them “to graduate and become good doctors… who practice good medicine and avoid being in debt.”

Witherington’s generosity and dedication to MCG are apparent in his philanthropic efforts. Over his years as a supporter of the school, he has endowed two student scholarship funds, one named after him and another created in honor of his graduating class, the Class of 1953. He established the Roy Witherington, MD Distinguished Chair in Urology, and he and his wife Sondra funded a learning community in Harrison Commons.

As a lifetime member of the Alumni Association, Witherington encourages his fellow MCG alumni to join him in giving back to the school. “MCG has really been my life, and I remain involved. I think anyone who graduates from the institution…and becomes a practitioner of medicine… should support it.” The enthusiasm in his voice is audible as he echoes, “Support your alma mater, everybody!” It is this enthusiasm, and genuine affection, that has followed Witherington from his days as a medical student to becoming a celebrated alumnus and lifelong advocate of MCG.

Alumni assist with COVID-19 response.

Scan the latest COVID-19 headlines and you will quickly see that the Augusta University Health System and the Medical College of Georgia have played a critical role in Georgia’s pandemic response. Two MCG alumni are part of the team bringing a comprehensive approach to a complex and ever-changing situation.

Dr. Phillip Coule ’96 has become a familiar name and face to Georgians over the past six months. Coule is Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of the Augusta University Health System and serves as the Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs of the Medical College of Georgia. He believes that early awareness of the threat of COVID-19 is one of the institutions’ greatest contributions to the effort and credits the hospital’s senior leadership for their willingness to listen. “Fortunately, the leadership was willing to listen when ‘what-if’ scenarios were raised,” which was necessary to prepare for the worst-case scenario. “The AU Health CEO (Katrina Keefer) and the Augusta University President (Dr. Brooks Keel) listened intently when we laid out possible outcomes.” Before the first case of COVID-19 ever hit the US, the team’s mindset and collective focus allowed planning and preparedness to move forward.

Preparation is Key

Coule’s career path, including a foray into emergency medicine in his teenage years, is a study in preparedness. He attended EMT school and high school at the same time, studying nights and weekends, and then went to work as an EMT directly after high school. There, he was exposed to the world of emergency medicine and disaster response. He recalls two formative events where he felt unprepared – a car accident and a high-rise building fire – and that feeling propelled him into a career in disaster preparedness.

Coule enrolled at MCG with the goal of working as an emergency physician. In his rotation as a medical student, his previous experiences gave him a sense of belonging and alignment with the program’s mission. He is proud to be an alumnus of MCG and describes his time as a student as “a fantastic educational experience that reinforced my love for emergency medicine.”

After completing his medical coursework, Coule began a residency in emergency medicine. His residency led him to develop a niche of pre-hospital medicine, with the goal of improving patient outcomes by enhancing collaboration. He further developed that niche as a faculty member at MCG. Each step along the way, in each environment, department heads allowed him to dive deeply into the pre-hospital/disaster component of medical care. As he moved up through the system, his earlier assignments better positioned him to understand what the institution should do during a pandemic. Coule’s work in disaster preparedness, along with his study of earlier pandemics and focus on risk communications, have brought him to his current assignment: combating COVID-19.

Utilizing assets also enabled AU Health and MCG to be on the leading edge of the virus response. “Our leadership was very good at leveraging all our assets. Knowing what could transpire allowed us to stay ahead [of the pandemic]. We were on steps 2 or 3 when others were on step 1,” Coule said.

The Georgia Esoteric and Molecular (GEM) Laboratory at MCG was an integral asset in the institution’s response effort. “Because we raised awareness of the pandemic early, and our leadership allowed us to communicate to a greater audience [within the institution], our department of pathology asked if we wanted to test for COVID-19.” With that, MCG and AU Health got a head start on testing, the first institutions in the state of Georgia. “We built on that success because we could test, and we diagnosed cases early,” Coule said. As a result of being on the leading edge of testing, AU Health and MCG were able to implement their convalescent plasma program in April 2020.

Despite his key role in the AU Health/MCG response to COVID-19, Coule is quick to acknowledge the collective efforts of the entire health system. “We give credit where credit is due — our success is not because of one individual, but because of a team of people who performed at a spectacular level. Our facilities team adjusted the air flow within buildings in one week’s time. Our lab professionals worked for weeks without a day off to process specimens from across the state. I could go on for days about all the different components of the system and how each success built upon the other. It has really taken the whole team!”

Overcoming Barriers, Virtually

One team member, Dr. Matthew Lyon ’99, came into the public eye during the pandemic response as a co-developer of the AU Health COVID-19 Virtual Care app.

Lyon is a Professor of Emergency Medicine at MCG and the Vice Chairman for Academic Programs & Research for the Department of Emergency Medicine. He is also the Director of the AU Center for Ultrasound Education.

It was Lyon’s enthusiasm for rural healthcare that laid the groundwork for the development of the app. “Rural healthcare is one of my big interests. I have worked over the last 10-12 years to develop education and support for rural emergency departments. I want to keep people in their rural counties so the hospitals remain viable.” Rural hospitals, Lyon said, need patients to maintain operations.

Telemedicine has been an integral part of Lyon’s efforts to improve healthcare offerings in rural areas. He is passionate about telemedicine because he sees all the benefits it offers to those in rural counties across the state. These counties have statistically higher rates of disparities in care, which often lead to adverse health outcomes. “[Throughout] my whole career I’ve worked to address disparities, especially with emergency care,” Lyon said.

AU Health and MCG had initially planned to roll out a telehealth app in the summer of 2020, but that plan ended up on hold due to COVID-19. Before the pandemic, the institutions planned for a telehealth app using the Amwell platform, which allows consumers to connect directly to clinicians through the app. Upon observing citizens’ level of confusion about how to test, where to go, and whether a person needs a test, they opted to change course and convert the app to be used for COVID-19 screening.

The COVID-19 Virtual Care app allows users to call in and speak with a clinician to determine their need for virus testing. In a matter of a few weeks, AU Health/MCG trained 900 people to serve the growing volume of patients with questions about COVID-19 testing. “We rapidly ramped up testing in Georgia, reaching to all corners of the state,” said Lyon. Over the course of three months, they screened approximately 20,000 individuals in Georgia and South Carolina and directed them to testing sites when needed.

They formed a partnership with Georgia’s department of public health, used their sites, and helped staff the sites with AU Health/MCG employees. The importance of having buy-in from the state health department and other key partners such as Georgia’s governor and the state national guard was not lost on Lyon. “From an institutional perspective, it’s really great to bring recognition to the state’s only public medical school. MCG is about service, the state of Georgia, and its citizens, and being able to give back to the citizens through telemedicine.”

“To have the governor acknowledge the amount of work we put forth, and its effectiveness, getting that recognition gives legitimacy. As a MCG grad, [it is meaningful] because not only were we selected, but we delivered. Lots of institutions wanted to serve and give, and MCG truly came through.” Had MCG and the AU Health system not been prepared to respond to COVID-19, Lyon said, “we would have been in a lot different place as a state.”

Beginning in late 2019, AU Health instituted an emergency department-to-emergency department telemedicine program to aid rural hospitals. This program had three goals: keeping patients in rural communities close to their support systems, increasing inpatient volume within rural hospitals, and decreasing unnecessary patient transfers from rural hospitals.

During June and July 2020, the pandemic caused urban and suburban hospitals to exceed inpatient capacity and, as a result, refuse transfer of inpatients from other hospitals. This capacity issue forced rural hospitals to care for critically ill patients who would, under normal circumstances, have been transferred to referral hospitals.

The high patient volume required the hospitals to adapt an innovative solution. Patients at rural hospitals consulted with AU Health emergency department physicians virtually, with an Emergency-Critical Care trained physician providing oversight. Through telemedicine, AU Health’s emergency department expanded its reach to the hospital medical-surgical wards and intensive care units in three rural hospitals in Georgia.

From July 20 through September 28, 2020, 81 patients were evaluated and treated using the Tele Critical Care program, resulting in 418 contact days. Of those patients, 19 percent were transferred to AU Health. Based on this initial success, four more rural hospitals joined the program, with rollouts planned in October and November 2020. These advancements are a testament to how Lyon and other team members forged ahead, during a pandemic, to decrease healthcare disparities in rural Georgia.

Moving Forward

Both Coule and Lyon reflected on the developments made during the AU Health/MCG COVID-19 response and what these will make possible for the future.

“It’s pretty clear that telemedicine has to be ingrained in medical curriculum. We had the opportunity to open a student telemedicine clinical experience, which will launch soon,” Lyon said. This clinical experience will teach students how to interact with patients using telemedicine and to observe nonverbal cues. Students will put what they learn from their coursework into practice in a safely distanced manner.

With all the downsides of the pandemic, Lyon views an increased focus on telemedicine as one byproduct that will effect positive change in the future. “Telemedicine is almost on-demand. Patients can be seen from anywhere, with no waiting room. This saves time and simplifies communications because information comes back via email or the patient portal.” Lyon sees a continued trend toward telehealth, even in a post-pandemic world.

“Healthcare is expedited through telemedicine,” Lyon added. For patients who are normally treated at rural hospitals, distance no longer matters. The barriers of transportation or waiting in a waiting room and using resources to get to and from the hospital are also eliminated. Before COVID-19, according to Lyon, telemedicine was heavily regulated. These regulations required patients to live in specific areas to be treated virtually. As Lyon recognized, “There are still a lot of people who live an hour or more who can’t make it to an appointment, even if they don’t live in specially designated rural areas.” A virtual model helps providers like Lyon avoid disruptions in the delivery of healthcare.

“The biggest benefit we have seen is the advancement of telemedicine,” Coule said, echoing Lyon’s thoughts on the expansion of telehealth. He noted that the resistance to adopting telemedicine has been high but the technology is well-positioned to expand in the years to come. For Coule and Lyon, this situation has presented a litany of obstacles but also a proving ground for the future of the health system.

“AU Health and MCG have demonstrated that our system is a world-class healthcare provider. The stress of this pandemic has caused us to be a leader and has shown what this institution is capable of,” Coule said. “Our goal is always to deliver the highest patient family care-centered healthcare.” Coule looks to uphold that standard “in routine healthcare, COVID-19 or the next disaster.”

MCGF_FY20 ANNUAL REPORT COMMENTARY

The Medical College of Georgia Foundation’s portfolio (the “Portfolio”) grew to $249.6 million in the June 30, 2020 fiscal year. The Portfolio returned +2.4%, a result that is ahead of its asset class blended benchmark and global equity markets, despite being more broadly diversified and having a lower risk profile than global equity.

Portfolio Value and Investment Performance

The Medical College of Georgia Foundation’s portfolio (the “Portfolio”) grew to $249.6 million in the June 30, 2020 fiscal year. The Portfolio returned +2.4%, a result that is ahead of its asset class blended benchmark and global equity markets, despite being more broadly diversified and having a lower risk profile than global equity.

We are pleased with the Portfolio’s performance amidst a challenging year for financial markets, and believe the Portfolio is well-positioned in today’s market environment. We continue to maintain diversification across both traditional and alternative asset classes and have designed the portfolio to perform well in a variety of economic and market conditions.

 

Fiscal Year 2020 Market Overview

Global equity markets ended fiscal year 2020 in positive territory after experiencing significant volatility throughout the year. While the first half of the fiscal year was relatively benign, the second half saw significant volatility and market declines as the seriousness of the health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was realized.

Global equity markets, as measured by the MSCI All Country World Index, ended the fiscal year returning +2.1%. The result was led by U.S equity markets as non-US equity markets ended the fiscal year in negative territory.  Global fixed income posted positive returns for the fiscal year, though due to a weakening U.S. dollar, international fixed income markets outperformed U.S. fixed income. Commodities and REITs posted the biggest declines for the fiscal year, ending the year with negative returns in the mid-teens.

The U.S. economy officially entered a recession in February, with the S&P 500 falling -34%.  As a result of the March sell-off, major central banks quickly stepped in and provided aggressive measures to counteract the economic downturn.  Record stimulus by the Fed, including expanding its balance sheet by $3 trillion, forbearance programs, stimulus checks, and unemployment insurance benefits softened the blow from economic loss.

Looking forward, there are many significant risks that remain. The virus is not fully contained. In the U.S. and several emerging market countries, numbers of new COVID-19 infections continue to rise. There are also political risks, with the approaching U.S. election and escalating tensions between the U.S. and China. The Portfolio continues to be managed with these risks in mind, while also maintaining a focus on identifying opportunities.

 

Asset Allocation

On July 23, 2020, the Investment Committee approved a revised investment policy statement with modified long-term strategic asset allocation targets. The targets continue to be designed to meet the Foundation’s long-term investment objective of maintaining purchasing power of the assets over time. The new policy remains rooted in the guiding principles of diversification, a careful approach to risk management, and emphasis on a long-term investment horizon.

WORTHY TO SERVE: DR. RAYMOND BEDGOOD

Dr. Raymond Bedgood ’89 has lived the words he first heard at an honor society induction throughout his career and into his retirement.

In his penultimate year of medical school, Bedgood was selected to join MCG’s chapter of Alpha Omega Alpha, the National Medical Honor Society. This accolade is bestowed upon medical students who display excellence in a number of areas, including grades, research and character. “What had such an impression on me,” Bedgood said, “after being inducted into AOA, and then elected as the chapter’s vice president for the following year, was that I got to induct the next group of honorees.” It was the organization’s motto, “Be worthy to serve the suffering,” that stayed with him post-medical school. “I’ve thought about that my whole career, practicing medicine about 30 years. What does it mean to be worthy to serve?”

The value of the MCG experience is not lost on Bedgood, a first-generation college student. “It was such an honor to go to med school, as I was the first person in our family to even go to college. Actually, both of my parents never even graduated from high school. They went to the school of hard knocks, though, and it taught them a lot.”

Prior to enrolling at MCG, Bedgood spent 10 years in law enforcement, working at the Bibb County Sheriff’s Department in Macon, Ga. “The Augusta newspaper wrote an article about me as a policeman transitioning to medical school,” he recalled, noting the parallels between the two professions. “In law enforcement and in medicine, you deal with people’s problems in similar ways.”

After graduation, Bedgood joined a busy private practice in Dalton, Ga. The small-town atmosphere in Dalton, where, as he said, “everyone knows everyone,” enabled him to forge strong connections with patients. Two of his patients at the time were directors of the DEO Clinic, a free medical clinic serving uninsured low-income individuals in Whitfield and Murray counties in northwest Georgia. During their visits, they asked Bedgood to volunteer at the clinic, to which he would respond, “When I retire, I’m going to help.” Both came to his retirement party and held him to his word. In fact, they already had him set up to see patients the next week.

Bedgood’s service as a volunteer physician at the DEO Clinic is where the words he spoke as a medical student came full circle. “The motto stuck with me my entire career and led me to my work at the DEO Clinic, where I got an opportunity to treat people who cannot afford insurance. Those people not only suffer from a medical standpoint but an economic standpoint. This is where I can be worthy to serve the suffering. That one experience in medical school…the DEO Clinic answered that question.”

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything for Bedgood and the DEO Clinic. “Before COVID-19, I was seeing patients in the clinic, in person. Volunteer clinics like ours, and even private clinics, closed when the pandemic hit.” Bedgood and the current director of the DEO Clinic, Heather Donahue, resolved that they needed to do something to keep the clinic going and continue seeing their patients.

Having seen his former partners from private practice embrace telehealth, Bedgood saw the need for the DEO Clinic to adopt similar technology. One significant obstacle stood in the way, though: funding. As Bedgood said, “Telemedicine costs money, and we needed the software and equipment to do it. The bottom line is that our patients don’t have iPhones or laptops to do telemedicine from home.” Donahue got to work on solving the issue and was able to get equipment, including laptop and desktop computers, donated by a local carpet company. This donation enabled DEO to supply the clinic rooms with desktop and laptop computers so patients can interface with physicians remotely. Bedgood and Donahue applied for a grant from the Healthy Family Alliance, a philanthropic outreach of the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians. The grant request was approved, and they moved quickly to get the clinic set up on its new telemedicine platform. DEO implemented a plan to staff the clinic with a rotation of volunteer nurses who follow all CDC guidelines to check in patients, direct them to a room and set them up on the computer. On the other end of the computer, a doctor calls in for a telemedicine visit.

Telemedicine had just gone live at the DEO Clinic when Bedgood headed to Maine for a previously scheduled vacation. Once he arrived, he did a successful trial run to test the connection. The next morning, patients arrived at the clinic and Bedgood was all set to conduct telemedicine visits. Tropical Storm Isaias, however, had other plans. Bedgood found himself without phone or internet service at his vacation home, but he would not allow the lack of connectivity to derail his appointments. He drove to a spot on top of a nearby mountain where he would be able to connect and set up his equipment. He was able to conduct a day’s worth of telehealth visits from that remote location in the wilderness of Maine.

The DEO Clinic’s quick pivot into telemedicine has enabled Bedgood and his fellow volunteers and providers at the clinic to care for patients in need at a most challenging time. “So far, it’s working out great,” Bedgood said of the new technology. “It’s a start.” He hopes to expand the clinic’s telehealth offerings to allow patients more access to subspecialists in the near future.

In its day-to-day operations, the DEO Clinic provides preventative and acute care and treats various chronic medical conditions. The clinic has an arrangement with a local hospital for specialty care referrals and can assist patients with prescriptions. Patients cannot receive federal aid and must be at 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level to qualify for services.

Bedgood sees the clinic as an opportunity for those experiencing hardships to receive healthcare. “Right after I started to work at the clinic, I’d seen one or two patients, picked up a chart, looked at it and recognized the name. I knocked on the door and walked in, and it was one of my patients from private practice. I asked what she was doing there, and she started crying and said she lost her job and her insurance. I told her, ‘I took care of you for 20 years, I’m going to keep taking care of you and it won’t cost you a penny.'”

Reflecting upon his career and the full-circle moment that began in medical school, Bedgood said, “The experience at MCG was not only a medical training experience, it was a great personal experience. MCG is the state’s public medical school, and they carry that idea a long way beyond academics. They turn out a lot of good doctors, and I was fortunate to go to school there.” Upon his retirement from private practice, he moved from Dalton to a new home in west Georgia, but still returns to Dalton to see friends and for appointments. When he is not volunteering at the DEO Clinic, he enjoys fly fishing and woodworking. The DEO Clinic allows him to stay connected to the profession he loves in an area he loves. “I’m able to stay in touch and serve the community that has done so much for me. It’s a great way to give something back.”