CORONAVIRUS

Dr. Tony Myers: Communicating facts in time of crisis

Mercy Medical Center vice president brings teaching approach

Dr. Tony Myers, standing March 31 outside Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, is vice president of system quality, ris
Dr. Tony Myers, standing March 31 outside Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, is vice president of system quality, risk and medical affairs at the hospital. He has been the public face of the hospital’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Last week, Dr. Tony Myers wanted to offer the public a glimpse inside what was happening at his hospital, Mercy Medical Center, as well as UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital, as they treat patients suffering from COVID-19.

During a twice-weekly news conference, of which he has been a staple since mid-March, it was direct, it was dark and it was real: There have been deaths and people on ventilators are fighting for their lives, he explained. Chances are not good if people wind up on ventilators, he said. This is not just something happening elsewhere on TV news or social media, he said.

“This is going on right now in Cedar Rapids,” Mercy’s vice president of system quality, risk and medical affairs said. “It is here.”

And he gave a wake-up call to those who think the virus primarily affects the elderly.

“The majority of people on ventilators are under 65 years old,” he continued. “That is just a fact. At this point, they are getting the medicines we hear about on TV, and they are not having much of an impact. The only thing we know that works is not getting it.”

The 56-year-old physician with roots in family medicine said he has tried to bring a straightforward approach to the crisis.

“I’m not a hand-waver, I’m a teacher,” Myers said. “I’m not going to say something unless I know it is true, and I’m going to present it in a reasonable way, and I’m not going to wave my hands or raise my voice. I’m going to say what it is. And if you do that, then you get people’s attention.”

Myers grew up on a farm south of Bloomfield in southeast Iowa, the son and grandson of teachers. He cultivated a love of teaching others and a calm, pragmatic approach to life. When confronted with a problem, you study it, break it down and begin working toward solutions, he said.

“I’ve always been very Boy Scoutish in that way,” he said.

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Skilled in science and math, he initially wanted to be a veterinarian and earned a degree at Iowa State University. But he recognized he could have more impact with humans and went on to medical school at the University of Iowa.

Practicing in Sierra Leone in West Africa, he gained experiences dealing with infectious diseases, including Lassa fever, an animal-borne viral illness. He later joined the family medicine faculty at a now-closed residency program affiliated with Mercy, St. Luke’s and the UI.

Flash forward to this year, and Myers was one of the early voices alerting first hospital officials, then community and political leaders of the scale of the problems ahead.

It has led to long days and weeks with no certain end in sight.

“I told my bosses on the executive team — we need to start looking at this seriously and starting to prepare for it. ... The more you start the conversation, the more you get drug into conversations at different levels,” he said, explaining how he assumed such a central, public role.

In each level of conversation, whether public or in private, he has taken the same approach: Explain the facts, he said.

“Dr. Myers is a methodical thinker who carefully evaluates the data before reaching a conclusion,” said Dr. Timothy Quinn, Mercy’s executive vice president and chief of clinical operations. “He understands what stress this pandemic has created for our community and has the rare skill of being able to communicate his recommendations with that in mind. We are fortunate to have him on our leadership team at Mercy; his insight and expertise have been invaluable.”

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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