Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
An Ode to the AUH
I do not remember my first visit to the American University Hospital (AUH), but my mother tells me that I was reasonably well behaved under the circumstances. I was aged one-and-three-quarters and was being taken by my father, who had recently started his career at the AUB medical school, to meet my newborn brother Ramzi.
While I may not remember that first introduction to the AUH, I have made countless visits to what has now become the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC), and these are indelibly marked in my memory. I have seen hundreds of patients at the AUBMC and its clinics for complex second opinions over more than two decades,
all gratis. I have had at least as many conversations with people I was not previously acquainted with recounting how they or their loved ones have been saved, or their lives transformed, by the medical center faculty and staff.
We may forget the exact words other people have said to us, but we never forget exactly how their stories made us feel; I am left with a feeling of immense pride and awe at the life-saving, life-changing effect of the AUB Medical Center—not just on individuals, but on whole communities, and whole nations. The AUBMC is an iconic Beiruti institution that is also a global treasure, serving those least fortunate at their moment of greatest distress, medical pilgrims from across the MENA region and beyond.
With the whole world watching, we have discharged our duties again and again, impartially and without prejudice"
Health is intricately tied together with human well-being and development and the medical center is responsible for a litany of breakthroughs and
firsts. It continues to host a corps of physicians, surgeons, and clinical and nursing researchers who are the match of any in the world. It has also been the backdrop for many of this region's headlines and historic events. With the whole world watching, we have discharged our duties again and again, impartially and without prejudice, as ordered by sacred pledges we have made in the spirit of Hippocrates and Florence Nightingale. We treated Civil War combatants from all sides, as well as non-combatants caught up in the bloodshed, diplomats and peacekeepers from across the globe, people injured in political bombings and unrest, not to mention the punishing Israeli assault on Lebanon in 2006. It was always thus, and so it is today.
The last year-and-a-half has brought a resounding reminder to all of just how vital the institution is. From caring for those who suffered smoke-inhalation injuries during the forest fires in the summer of 2019, followed by patients injured in the
, when Lebanon, briefly united by a vision of a better country, once again fell back into polarization and violence. Again, we honored our oaths by treating both demonstrators and those in uniform, fairly, conscientiously, and with courage. We even had to prevent skirmishes in our Emergency Department by treating patients who had been part of the uprising and the members of the security services in different areas of the complex. The care has been extraordinary, from the Emergency Department to the surgical units to the ICUs, and without reimbursement or acknowledgment for these extraordinary efforts.
On to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which our AUBMC has treated more patients than any other center in Lebanon, even after the loss of staff members due to our economically dictated layoffs. On August 4, 2020, as Beirut lay shattered and thousands of people streamed into emergency departments, the medical center saw patients inside and outside, caring for the mighty and the mild with equal alacrity. More than 550 people
received treatment over the 48 hours following the cataclysmic explosion and they were treated with expertise that was extraordinary. This care continued into the later months of 2020 as the pandemic worsened dramatically and at one point, between the Emergency Department and the hospital, we had more than 130 COVID-19 patients in–house.
Reviewer after reviewer remarked how they had never seen anything like AUBMC"
Amid this unprecedented stress, as fortune would have it, the AUBMC team was required to resubmit to the very demanding challenge of reaccreditation mandated by the most exacting and respected accreditation agency, Joint Commission International (JCI), with a self-study report and virtual review. The AUBMC leadership, led by Medical Center Director Joseph Otayek, Chief of Staff Samir Alam, Interim Dean of Medicine Ghazi Zaatari, Chief Medical Officer Pierre Sfeir, and Quality, Accreditation, and Risk Management Director Rawad Jamaleddine, managed to execute an
almost flawless reaccreditation in which reviewer after reviewer remarked how they had never experienced anything like AUBMC.
As Dr. Alam stated, with his customary eloquence, “At times of crisis, there is the risk to shift priorities and even lose sense of purpose. But [the JCI inspectors] team deliberations and verdict are a full corroboration and validation of the prevailing high standards of care in AUBMC and a firm attestation of the prevailing commitment to principled care and clinical excellence by our nurses, students, house staff, physicians, and the entire team of administrators and supporting service men and women. They have done an impeccable job with energy, passion, and kindness. To them, we are in awe and respect." Indeed, some of the reviewers admitted that should they ever fall ill, they would like to take residence nearby in order to be treated by the extraordinary AUBMC physicians, nurses, and staff in this incredibly dedicated institution that catered for more than 400,000 patient visits a year before the financial crash.
Nor have we lost our purpose as an academic medical center, home to a host of world-class researchers and centers of excellence, as evinced by the
recent publication of an expert review on beta-Thalassemia in the
New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Ali Taher, professor of clinical hematology-oncology and director of the Naef K. Basile Cancer Institute; or the 50 peer-reviewed manuscripts published by members of the Emergency Department in 2020, of which 30 were in first- and second-quartile journals; or any number of other achievements and accolades too numerous to mention that our faculty continue to receive amid the most challenging of times.
On February 14, 2021, the Ministry of Public Health launched the national corona vaccination drive with a pilot study at AUBMC, Saint George's Hospital, and Rafic Hariri University Hospital (the government hospital which happens to be led by an AUB graduate and faculty member). As has been reported, the challenges of this launch
mounted by the hour: the MOPH platform crashed multiple times; on the morning of the pilot, only one name—albeit a great one, Samir Alam—appeared on the platform at the time when AUBMC was equipped to vaccinate 300 individuals. In spite of this, extraordinary efforts by the teams of Mr. Jamaleddine, Interim Chair of Family Medicine Umayya Musharrafieh, Operations and Logistics Director Raed Rafeh, Director of Nursing Hisham Bawadi, Executive Administrator Mira Wehbe, and others led to all patients who were scheduled being assembled and receiving their dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
A caring institution that has impacted the lives of people far beyond our own community"
Over the course of the last four weeks, AUB has dispensed nearly 15,000 vaccine doses, every single recipient of which was a resident of Lebanon registered on the MOPH platform. The healthcare workers from AUBMC and other institutions and senior citizens and patients have uniformly praised the experience of the AUBMC COVID-19 vaccination process, as they did the remarkable care that was provided at the Pandemic Evaluation Clinic and Center (PECC). Once more, AUBMC has acquitted itself admirably and heroically in the face of an unprecedented crisis.
This message is deliberately called an
Ode to the AUH
—using the name which so many of the people whom we serve there still use to describe their hospital. The fact that its official name has been the AUB Medical Center for more than 50 years, reflecting a major ASHA-funded expansion completed in 1970, may not be a lesson in successful rebranding, but it certainly is a strong indication of the emotive gravity of a caring institution that has impacted the lives of people far beyond our own vibrant community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni. My father was a two-time graduate of AUB and he joined the medical faculty in 1964, becoming chair of the Department of Physiology in 1968, and crowning his career as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Medical Center in 1978-86. He also served as acting president in 1984-85 shortly after the assassination of Malcolm Kerr. That too was a time of daunting obstacles, and there were many tough decisions and sacrifices made to keep the AUB and AUBMC spirit burning brightly.
Raja N. Khuri, MD [pictured above, second from right] passed away on March 13, 1996, exactly 25 years ago today. He spent the vast majority of his career serving his alma mater, its hospital and medical center, institutions he loved like no other. After five-and-a-half years serving as president myself, I understand whole-heartedly his love for the AUH and AUBMC. I share it myself, as do legions of alumni, students, faculty, staff, and patients who have been served faithfully and expertly by this unparalleled institution. Long may it endure.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD