Connecting Isolated Patients With Their Families During Coronavirus Pandemic


Dr. Patrick Keller ’03 at Lincoln Hospital

At the height of the COVID-19 surge in New York City, Dr. Patrick Keller, MSIH class of ‘03, MPH, Flight Surgeon & Chief of Aerospace Medicine for the United States Air Force, was mobilized to Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx to work as an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) attending. At Lincoln Hospital, he provided treatment for the most critically-ill COVID-19 patients.

When Patrick arrived, the hospital was overwhelmed. Many healthcare workers were on sick leave, and some had died from COVID-19. Most of the hospital had been converted to treat pandemic patients, and several general medicine floors were being used as ICUs to double capacity. 

All Residents worked the COVID floors. To fill widening gaps, the hospital hired travel nurses and physician assistants, but there was still a great need for additional support. 

Along with other doctors and nurses deployed by the Air Force, Dr. Keller was assigned to a COVID-19 floor where about half the patients were on ventilators. Keller had to adjust quickly – he hadn’t done in-patient work since completing his Family Medicine Residency in 2006. 

While at Lincoln, Dr. Keller treated a diverse patient population ranging in age from ages 23-109. The majority, roughly 80%, were black or Latino. A few younger people in their 30’s and 40’s also died from COVID-19 during his time at the hospital. 

“I suppose I was prepared, but it didn’t feel that way. But it never does. I didn’t feel prepared when I was dealing with trauma in Afghanistan, or when I arrived for my first day at MSIH… I learned to love Beer-Sheva, I learned to perform in Afghanistan.”

Patrick Keller has worked on various COVID-19 related projects, including one that connected isolated, severely ill, COVID-19 patients with their loved ones through video conference.

“There were some amazing moments from that – over two-thirds of the patients had no way to communicate and they were suffering for it. One man was able to call his mother who thought he had died – the day before Mother’s Day! This was truly special.” 

Keller’s deployment ended on May 25th, and he returned to his work as a Clinical Operations Manager/Occupational Health Physician for Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California.

Despite his experience, Keller remains optimistic. “We all need to hope for a better society – one born from the struggles we’ve experienced due to the pandemic.” 

Connecting isolated patients during Coronavirus pandemic
Dr. Patrick Keller, MPH (‘03), Flight Surgeon & Chief of Aerospace Medicine for the United States Air Force

Patrick Keller is a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force. He has represented the US in global health teaching programs, partnering with the Department of State and other nations around the world.


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