Throughout fiscal year 2021 (July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021), Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and Wake Forest University School of Medicine led and collaborated on numerous COVID-19 research studies, provided guidance, encouragement and credible information to the region and the nation. We developed and quickly implemented innovative ways to increase access to vaccines, especially to the most vulnerable, underrepresented minorities and those who live in areas traditionally underserved by health care.
Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist were named lead investigators of a nationwide COVID-19 study through a $54 million, two-year contract between Vysnova Partners Inc. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study provided urgently needed estimates of the population prevalence of COVID-19 while examining the geographic, demographic and chronologic distributions, as well as clinical consequences. Read more.
Wake Forest Baptist, in partnership with Javara, recruited healthy adults for a Phase 3 clinical research study to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of mRNA-1273, a vaccine candidate to protect against COVID-19. Sponsored by Moderna, the COVE study recruited healthy volunteers, ages 18 and older, in high-risk populations, including seniors, racial and ethnic minorities at higher risk for COVID-19, and essential workers in close contact with potentially infected persons. Read more.
Wake Forest Baptist became the first health system in the nation to enroll patients in a Phase 2 clinical trial designed to quickly determine whether drugs already approved for other uses could be repurposed to effectively treat COVID-19 in critically ill patients. The I-SPY COVID Trial’s "adaptive platform trial design" enabled several possible drug treatments to be tested at the same time, with the most promising potentially moving forward for further exploration and the least promising, removed from the study. Read more.
Katherine Poehling, M.D., professor of pediatrics, served on the prestigious CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). She and her colleagues examined research and data and provided advice and guidance to the director of the CDC regarding the use of vaccines in the U.S.
Throughout the fiscal year, Christopher Ohl, M.D., professor of infectious diseases, continued to host regular Facebook COVID-19 updates to media outlets and to those in the community and beyond, providing encouragement and important, timely information.
On Dec. 14, 2020, Wake Forest Baptist was the first health system in North Carolina to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and began vaccinating its employees the next day. In early January, the health system began offering the vaccine to patients 75 and older, following federal and state guidance.
Wake Forest Baptist joined with the Forsyth County Department of Public Health and Novant Health to increase awareness of and access to COVID-19 vaccines in historically marginalized populations. The three organizations held a mass vaccination event at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds for health care workers, seniors and essential frontline workers and partnered with Winston-Salem State University to bring FEMA vaccination support to Winston-Salem.
To ensure equity in access to COVID-19 vaccines within underserved communities, Wake Forest Baptist and Atrium Health partnered with National Urban League North Carolina affiliates Winston-Salem Urban League and Urban League of Central Carolinas to co-host vaccination events in Winston-Salem and Charlotte.
The health system began providing COVID-19 vaccinations to patients age 65 and older who received dialysis treatment at its outpatient dialysis clinics in Winston-Salem and surrounding counties.
Wake Forest Baptist took to the streets in its Mobile Health Clinic to provide convenient COVID-19 vaccinations to older adults living in East Winston. Among the vaccine recipients were those who are part of Wake Forest Baptist’s Fresh Food Rx program – a program that provides healthy food to older adults who are food insecure.
Shortly after the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was expanded to include adolescents 12 to 15 years of age, Brenner Children’s held two vaccination events for those in that age group, in Winston-Salem and High Point. Wake Forest Baptist also began offering Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations to all eligible individuals at pediatric and adult primary care locations across the region.
Hematology and Oncology Clinic Opened at Wilkes Medical Center
Wake Forest Baptist opened a hematology and oncology clinic at Wake Forest Baptist Health – Wilkes Medical Center, part of Wake Forest Baptist’s Comprehensive Cancer Center network – the only center in the region designated by the National Cancer Institute.
Patients received diagnosis and treatment of cancer and benign and malignant blood disorders, on-site chemotherapy infusion, laboratory and pharmacy services, PET imaging, and access to the latest cancer treatments and clinical trials.
“By bringing these new services to our area, we are continuing our commitment to expanding access to convenient, high-quality health care so more patients can remain closer to home,” said Chad Brown, president of Wilkes Medical Center. “By being part of Wake Forest Baptist Health, our hematology and oncology team is directly connected with the experts in radiation, gynecologic and surgical oncology to ensure we offer a multidisciplinary approach for our patients with all types of cancer, from the most common to the very rare.” Read more.
Wake Forest Baptist Received $1.2 Million to Help Improve Rural Health Care in Wilkes County
Wake Forest Baptist received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to help improve rural cardiovascular care in Wilkes County.
The funding allowed Wake Forest Baptist to expand its telehealth services by connecting the health system’s emergency care and cardiovascular experts virtually and in real-time with staff at Wilkes EMS, Wilkes County Health Department’s Public Health Community Clinic (PHCC) and Wilkes Medical Center’s emergency department.
“The goal of this project is to improve rural health equity and outcomes for patients by using telehealth to bring new, leading-edge cardiovascular care to communities throughout Wilkes County,” said Simon Mahler, M.D., M.S., professor of emergency medicine. “Our health system already operates a wide-reaching telestroke network in emergency departments across rural North Carolina – including Wilkes Medical Center – so expanding our telehealth program to improve rural cardiovascular care is a natural extension of that work.” Read more.
Wake Forest Baptist Telestroke Network Reached Patients and a Milestone
Wake Forest Baptist’s Telestroke Network reached a significant milestone by serving more than 10,000 patients since it was established in 2009.
The first community hospital to join the network was Wake Forest Baptist Health – Lexington Medical Center and the network has grown to include 21 hospitals throughout North Carolina, from the mountains to the coast.
The Telestroke Network provided around-the-clock access to expert stroke care for patients in smaller communities. Emergency department physicians at community hospitals within the network received on-demand consultation with a Wake Forest Baptist stroke neurologist by using a special mobile robot unit, equipped with video conferencing, located at each of the community hospitals.
“I cannot overstate how essential this service is to so many small hospitals across North Carolina,” said Amy Guzik, M.D., associate professor of neurology and director of Telestroke Services. “This program has helped improve stroke care beyond the tPA window and has provided the infrastructure to allow many hospitals to achieve Primary Stroke Center certification from the Joint Commission.” Read more.
New Approach Helped EMTs Better Assess Chest Pain en Route to Hospital
Is this person with chest pain having a heart attack? That’s a question EMTs frequently confront when responding to 911 calls.
A study conducted at Wake Forest Baptist showed that on-scene use of a new protocol and advanced diagnostic equipment can help paramedics better identify patients at high risk for adverse cardiac events. This approach could help paramedics determine the hospital best equipped to treat those people.
“While only 7% of people who make 911 calls due to chest pain are having a heart attack, paramedics must be able to make the correct decisions using objective measurements to identify another 20% that need specific cardiac care,” said principal investigator Jason Stopyra, M.D., associate professor of emergency medicine. “High-risk patients are often transported to facilities that don’t have interventional cardiology capabilities, and later have to be transferred to another hospital for urgent procedures.” Read more.
NIH Awarded $2.9 Million Grant to Wake Forest Baptist Scientists to Develop Flu Vaccine for Newborns Using Animal Model
Newborns and young infants are particularly susceptible to the flu and are six times more likely to die from the infection than older children are. Currently there is no flu vaccine available for babies less than 6 months old.
But thanks to a $2.9 million, four-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, scientists at Wake Forest University School of Medicine are using a pre-clinical model to develop a safe and effective vaccine for infants younger than 6 months old.
“Infants have a hard time making a good immune response to the virus, which is why they are so susceptible to severe infection from exposure to the flu,” said Martha A. Alexander-Miller, Ph.D., principal investigator of the study and director of Wake Forest Baptist’s Center for Vaccines at the Extremes of Aging.
“This is coupled with the fact that infants are born with varying amounts of virus-specific antibody that they get from their mothers. That’s why it is now recommended that pregnant women get the flu vaccine because it is currently the only way to increase the level of protection in newborns until they begin to develop their own immune response and are old enough to get a flu vaccine.” Read more.
Wake Forest Baptist Received Grant to Improve Access to Cancer Clinical Trials for Underserved, Rural Populations
Despite advances in cancer treatment, disparities in cancer outcomes are prevalent, especially for minority, underserved and rural populations.
With a $775,000 one-year grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), researchers at Wake Forest Baptist’s Comprehensive Cancer Center are working to reduce those disparities.
The grant, entitled CATCH-UP (Create Access to Targeted Cancer Therapy for Underserved Populations), allowed Wake Forest Baptist to offer and enroll patients to select trials through the NCI’s Experimental Therapeutics Clinical Trials Network (ETCTN), a collaboration of industry, academic institutions and researchers to evaluate early phase therapeutic clinical trials in areas of unmet medical needs.
“As one of only three Comprehensive Cancer Centers in North Carolina, we are uniquely positioned to reach underserved populations in this region,” said Alexandra Thomas, M.D., professor of hematology and oncology.
“The CATCH-UP grant aligns with our commitment to improve cancer outcomes for all patients. This grant not only helps us increase clinical trial awareness and participation, but we’re also providing important new treatment options for our patients.” Read more.
Brenner Children’s Hospital Verified as Level I Children’s Surgery Center
Brenner Children’s Hospital was verified as a Level I Children’s Surgery Center by the American College of Surgeons (ACS).
Brenner Children’s was the only hospital in the region and one of only 28 in the country to receive this verification.
“Whether the need is minor or complex, families in our region are fortunate to have such an incredible resource and an amazing, multidisciplinary team, dedicated to delivering outstanding care to each child who comes through our doors,” said Alisa Starbuck, D.N.P., president of Brenner Children’s Hospital.
Before hospitals receive verification, they must undergo an extensive site visit by a team of ACS surveyors who review the center’s structure, process and clinical outcomes data.
“This accomplishment is a direct result of the commitment from our leadership and our entire team to provide the absolute best care to the children who we serve throughout the region,” said Thomas Pranikoff, M.D., medical director of children’s surgery at Brenner Children’s Hospital. Read more.
Javara, Inc. and Wake Forest Baptist Launched Innovative Partnership to Amplify Clinical Trial Access
Javara, Inc. and Wake Forest Baptist signed an Integrated Research Agreement, which extended their existing partnership to provide clinical research services at the point of care with physicians and patients within Wake Forest Baptist’s community health care clinics and designated medical centers.
“We are grateful for the collaboration with Wake Forest Baptist as we build together a robust clinical trial offering to the community with the mission of improving health equity and bringing hope through greater trial access,” said Jennifer J. Byrne, CEO of Javara. “Together, we can transform health care by engaging large diverse patient populations within the Wake Forest Baptist network to ensure the right patient is matched to the right trial at the right time.”
The initial partnership with Wake Forest Baptist and the recent expansion of offerings would not have been possible without the recognition and support from Gregory L. Burke, M.D., chief science officer at Wake Forest Baptist. Burke recognized the impact of offering more options for clinical research participation as a population health strategy.
“We are pleased to embark on this journey with Javara to bring clinical trials to locations where research has not historically been a part of health care,” Burke said. “By integrating clinical trials into these community practices, we are able to reach large patient populations at the point of care with great potential to increase value in pursuit of our ultimate goal of improving the health of our patients and communities.” Read more.
Wake Forest Baptist Launched Hospitalist at Home Program
Wake Forest Baptist launched its Hospitalist at Home program on Dec. 15, 2020, allowing more patients – both those with and without COVID-19 – to be safely cared for at home, reducing the length of time they spend in the hospital.
This unique approach, which is the first of its kind in the Piedmont Triad region, combines telehealth technology with in-home visits by Wake Forest Baptist paramedics.
Once a patient transitions to the Hospitalist at Home program, a Wake Forest Baptist paramedic visits the patient at their home while a hospitalist physician reviews the care plan with the patient and paramedic virtually, using either a smart phone, mobile device or computer with a webcam. Virtual telehealth visits and in-person paramedic visits continue until the patient no longer needs to be monitored.
“This program allows more patients to safely receive the high-quality care they need, in the comfort of their own home, regardless of whether they live in an urban area or a rural community,” said Chi-Cheng Huang, M.D., executive medical director of general medicine and hospital medicine. “We are grateful to our leaders, our patients and our entire multidisciplinary team for embracing this program and to our Atrium Health colleagues for helping us adapt the successful and existing program in the Charlotte area to our patients in this region of North Carolina.” Read more.
Wake Forest University School of Medicine Reopened Clinic for Underserved at New Location
The Delivering Equal Access to Care (DEAC) Clinic, a Wake Forest University School of Medicine student-run and physician-staffed free clinic for individuals who have no insurance and are ineligible for Medicaid, reopened at a new location at Highland Avenue Primary Care Clinic in Winston-Salem.
Due to the pandemic, the clinic had been closed for in-person appointments, but reopened every Monday evening by appointment for uninsured residents of Forsyth, Davidson, Davie, Stokes and Yadkin counties.
“We’re thrilled to welcome patients back to the DEAC Clinic and are excited for the access that our new location in east Winston-Salem will offer many of the individuals that we serve. Our new space is right along a bus line, which will enable many of our patients without consistent transportation to come to the clinic,” said Stephanie Snyder, a School of Medicine student. “We know it’s been a challenging year for many and our hope is that the DEAC Clinic will provide safe, convenient and high-quality health care to those who may not otherwise receive it.” Read more.
$2.5 Million Awarded to Wake Forest Baptist for Joint Organoid Research Program to Treat Aggressive Cancers
Personalized medicine research for aggressive abdominal cancers at Wake Forest Baptist received a boost from a $2.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute that supports research efforts at Wake Forest Organoid Research Center (WFORCE), a joint effort between the Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) to tailor personalized therapy for patients.
The funding supports development of a new drug testing platform to predict treatment outcomes for patients. The platform leverages tissue bioengineering advances and genomic technologies to reconstruct and grow patient-derived tumor organoids (i.e., fragments of a patient’s cancer) in the presence of different drugs to predict clinical responses of patients and guide treatment selection.
“Every time cancer cells multiply, they generate the next generation of cancer cells with new properties,” said Konstantinos Votanopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., professor of surgery and director of WFORCE. “As the cancer progresses, the patient ends up with not just a single tumor, but many different tumor clones with variable biologic behavior and response to treatment. Accurate mapping of tumor clonality, combined with response of each clone to therapy is the key for the development of personalized treatment strategies tailored to each patient separately.” Read more.
Wake Forest Baptist Received Grant to Decrease Food Insecurity in Young Children
Wake Forest Baptist received a $25,000 grant to help support food insecurity programs at the health system’s Downtown Health Plaza and The Birth Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Pediatricians at Wake Forest Baptist’s Downtown Health Plaza screen families at each visit for food insecurity and offer nutritious food, produce vouchers for local farmer’s markets and healthy recipes that can easily be made at home, along with SNAP and WIC referrals, as part of the health system’s Food is Health program.
The grant from No Kid Hungry, a campaign from the national nonprofit Share our Strength, allows the Food is Health program to continue at Downtown Health Plaza, and expand to The Birth Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to serve families in the newborn nursery who are food insecure.
“Given the association of food insecurity with poor child health outcomes, intervening at birth has the potential to mitigate household food insecurity at a critical time of growth and development for the baby,” said Kimberly Montez, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and principal investigator for the grant. “This is why we are so excited to now be able to start screening for and addressing food insecurity for families of newborns.” Read more.
Wake Forest Baptist AirCare: 35 Years of Critical Care in the Air
AirCare – Wake Forest Baptist’s air ambulance program – marked 35 years of treating and transporting critically ill and injured patients.
Since its first flight in May 1986, AirCare has grown from one helicopter to three helicopters and also includes four critical care ground ambulances that transport individuals across North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina.
The AirCare helicopter crew – comprised of a pilot, a Wake Forest Baptist paramedic and flight nurse – transports adult and pediatric patients with a variety of conditions, including trauma, cardiac, stroke and burns. Wake Forest Baptist is home to the only Level I trauma center in the region, one of only two burn centers in the state and one of only three Level I pediatric trauma centers in the state.
“From the start of the pandemic, the men and women of AirCare have never wavered and stayed committed to providing transportation for COVID-19 patients,” said Billy Haynes, AirCare program manager. “A lot of additional time and effort goes into transferring individuals who have been confirmed to have or are suspected to have COVID-19. This includes additional time spent putting on personal protective equipment before transport and extra time cleaning and disinfecting helicopters, ambulances and equipment once the patient has been safely delivered. These crews have been so responsive and as always, the AirCare team really stepped up to provide outstanding care for patients across our large service area.” Read more.
Wake Forest Baptist Opened Performing Arts Medicine Clinic
When people think of sports medicine, images of dancers, musicians, vocalists or artists may not immediately come to mind; however, the highly repetitive nature of these activities can result in injuries, especially due to poor technique or overuse.
To meet the needs of the performing arts community, Wake Forest Baptist opened a clinic dedicated to performing arts medicine – the first of its kind in the region and one of just a few in the country.
The clinic is led by David Popoli, M.D., an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation and sports medicine, and Denise Tickle, LPT, a physical therapist who specializes in performing arts medicine.
“I believe that a multidisciplinary team with diverse backgrounds and specialized training provides the best environment for helping prevent and treat injuries in this population,” said Popoli, who is also the consulting physician for the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. “Our team understands the unique demands of these patients, so we want to do all we can to help get them back to dancing, playing, singing or painting.” Read more.
Study Found Association between Head Impacts and Imaging Changes in Youth Football Players over Consecutive Seasons
Research conducted by scientists at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the University of Texas Southwestern showed that head impacts experienced during practice are associated with changes in brain imaging of young players over multiple seasons.
The purpose of the study was to examine changes in head impact exposure (HIE) pre- and post-season in a group of 47 athletes who participated in youth football for two or more consecutive years between 2012 and 2017. None of the 47 youth athletes sustained a clinically diagnosed concussion during the study period.
“Although we need more studies to fully understand what the measured changes mean, from a public health perspective, it is motivation to further reduce head impact drills used during practice in youth football,” said the study’s corresponding author Jill Urban, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering.
“We observed variability in the amount and direction of imaging changes in the brain related to the amount of exposure that the players experienced on the field. If we can take efforts to reduce that exposure on-field, we can potentially mitigate changes in brain imaging.” Read more.