May 6, 2021

Preparing for disaster: School of Medicine’s Robert Dunne, M.D., is key player in Detroit’s COVID-19 pandemic response

Robert Dunne, M.D., far right, works with Emergency Medical Services team members at TCF Center in Detroit.

More than year into the pandemic, the man behind the scenes of the city’s mass vaccination efforts has been working diligently to ensure his portion of Detroit’s response to COVID-19 continues to run as smoothly and seamlessly as possible.

Robert Dunne, M.D.

Robert Dunne, M.D., FACEP, FAEMS, is a professor of Emergency Medicine at Wayne State University, and directs the School of Medicine’s pre-hospital programming, including Emergency Medical Services, Preparedness, EMS Research and more. He is also program director of the Emergency Medical Services fellowship.

Dr. Dunne is the elected medical director of the Detroit East Medical Control Authority, the local version of the state-designated entity that supervises all pre-hospital care in Detroit and eastern Wayne County. As its chief medical officer, he is responsible for the coordination of the medical response at the TCF Center vaccination site in Detroit.

The city operation is going well, “all things considered,” Dr. Dunne said. “We have had plans for mass vaccination and medical countermeasure sites since the anthrax attacks that occurred in 2001 after the World Trade Center (Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks). It is still deeply weird to be using our pandemic plans, even after a year. Most of us have run drills creating a mass vaccination site, but actually doing it is something else.”

Dr. Dunne has been a leading figure in the field of disaster preparedness for nearly two decades, and a key player in the city of Detroit’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including efforts at the TCF Center, where vaccinations are open to any Detroit resident age 16 and older by appointment or walk-in from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“We are lucky at Wayne State to have Dr. Dunne as a faculty member, not just for the leadership and knowledge he brings, but also for the unique educational opportunities he provides to our students,” said Professor of Emergency Medicine Phillip Levy, M.D., M.P.H., who leads the Wayne Health Mobile Unit efforts, another city-supported response to the pandemic. “Because of Dr. Dunne, at the TCF Center Wayne State students are directly in the mix, working to ensure those who are vaccinated remain safe. These students will remember for years to come the time they spent on site, seeing first-hand how a community comes together to help save itself.”

The physicians at TCF Center supervise ambulance teams and provide medical support to the operation. They run it like any large special event, mimicking the setup they use for the annual fireworks show, large Hart Plaza Concerts and more.

The system includes on-site medical control at all times the vaccination center is operating, planning the layout and equipment needs, provide training, data collection and specifying the response configuration needed for that number of people. In addition, Dr. Dunne’s team provides outreach vaccinations such as home visits for those in the community who can’t get to TCF Center.

“Many of our faculty serve on the Medical Control Authority Board and work on our field response initiatives, including Dr. Stefanie Wise, Dr. Marc Rosenthal, Dr. Erin Brennan and Dr. Howard Klausner,” he said.

Students from the School of Medicine and the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences also serve at the TCF Center.

“Medical students shadow our EMS teams, and learn the ins and out of mass vaccination and have been involved in scheduled community clinics,” Dr. Dunne added. “It is the first time anyone gets exposed to this concept of large-scale medical countermeasures. Hopefully it will encourage students to get more involved in health care preparedness.”

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