Practitioner of the Year Dr. Joseph Gastaldo shines during pandemic
Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, OhioHealth: Practitioner of the Year, Columbus CEO Healthcare Achievement Awards 2021
Acute and chronic infections caused by bacteria, parasites, fungi and viruses can be complicated to treat, and doctors in this field often are called upon when simple answers can’t be found. That never was more true than in February 2020, when Dr. Joseph Gastaldo got a call that would change the trajectory of his professional life.
On the line was then-OhioHealth Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff. He needed Gastaldo, the system’s medical director of infectious diseases, at OhioHealth’s Incident Command Center to provide guidance about Covid-19, which had just been detected in the U.S. As a novel coronavirus, Gastaldo and other doctors knew next to nothing about the emerging problem. To become a helpful resource, he set out on a mission to become a credible source of information about Covid-19, both inside and outside the walls of OhioHealth’s hospitals.
This new path would lead Gastaldo to become the man Ohioans turn to for answers about Covid-19. He has participated in countless media interviews to inform the public, conducted daily briefings with providers, informed public health policy and stayed on the forefront of treatments and vaccines. He also uses his social media channels to post tips and information in ways that are easy for the layperson to understand.
“I was essentially pulled from seeing patients (early on in the crisis). That part was challenging to me, but it was important to (respond to Covid-19) during this really historic time,” Gastaldo says. “When history judges what’s going on, it will be in the same context as World War II.”
About 407,000 Americans were killed in World War II. America passed 400,000 Covid-19-related deaths in mid-January.
The battle over fact vs. fiction
On a Monday morning in late January, Gastaldo woke up, ran a 5K and then had his morning cup of coffee while doing a radio interview with 610 WTVN to talk about the latest developments in the battle against the pandemic. It’s one of two regular radio appearances he’s done every week since March to keep the public informed. Part of the problem in combating the virus, he says, is an “infodemic” where people rely on opinion journalists and social media and therefore aren’t able to tell the difference between fact and fiction. Knowing lives are at stake, Gastaldo has made himself available around the clock and on holidays and weekends to talk to the media. He’s reached tens of thousands of Ohioans through interviews with local TV stations, articles in local publications, OhioHealth’s public education resources including blogs and social media, and the iHeartRadio Podcast. An NBC4 interview with Gastaldo that aired on Facebook Live received more than 1.9 million views.
Gastaldo has worked to ease the health crisis in a number of ways. Examples include:
Staying on top of the latest research about the virus and making sure the newest drugs and treatments are available to patients in central Ohio. And when an antibody treatment received emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration, he immediately began using it and made sure OhioHealth’s vaccination clinics had access. He also was an early adopter of steroids for inpatients and continues to be a frontline worker. He meets daily with the lab testing and pharmacology teams and hosts regular video meetings for the system’s physicians.
Gastaldo presents facts with no political agenda so he can be a resource for statewide public health decisions. He was a leader in developing a statewide plan around return-to-work guidelines. He also headed a committee that determined which patients should receive contact plasma to ensure good use of a limited resource.
Gastaldo seeks out information from infectious disease colleagues, pores through medical journals and digests advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He shares the knowledge he gains with the broader medical community so providers can deliver progressive care. He also prepares daily communications for 4,875 OhioHealth physicians, residents and advance practice providers, including short videos that synthesize scientific data.
“Joe has worked arm in arm with frontline workers in our hospitals and with leadership in our Incident Command Center providing his expertise since day one of Covid-19,” Dr. Teri Caulin-Glaser, senior vice president, chief clinical officer at OhioHealth said in a statement prepared for Columbus CEO. “Beyond that, his willingness to participate in literally hundreds of media interviews has educated people in the community and helped separate fact from fiction about all things Covid-19. He’s truly a committed healthcare provider and very worthy of this honor.”
Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer.
Dr. Joseph Gastaldo
OhioHealth system medical director of infectious diseases; medical director of quality and safety, Riverside Methodist Hospital; infectious diseases physician
In role since: 2017
Experience: Specialty is infectious diseases. Treatments include soft tissue infections, HIV, MRSA infections, foodborne illness and post-operative wound infections.
Education: Wright State University, Boonshoft School of Medicine; completed residency and fellowship at Ohio State University Hospitals
Community involvement: Member of Upper Arlington Schools medical advisory team; as a member of the Greater Columbus LGBTQ Health Coalition, he serves as a voluntary “Pride Provider” who is committed to delivering LGBTQ-centered and culturally competent care.