New TMA Leaders Chosen Amid Historic Pandemic
By Amy Lynn Sorrel Texas Medicine June 2020

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Despite the suspension of the Texas Medical Association House of Delegates due to the COVID-19 pandemic, special provisions in TMA’s bylaws allowed for limited elections to take place on May 2, including that of Edinburg internist E. Linda Villarreal, MD, as president-elect. And Diana L. Fite, MD, took office as planned as TMA’s 155th president.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency, the TMA Board of Trustees voted on March 29 to invoke a bylaws provision allowing them to function as a Disaster Board and to assume the responsibilities of the House of Delegates, TMA’s policymaking body. That includes overseeing and conducting elections and installations of TMA officers and other necessary business.

This is only the second time in TMA history that the House of Delegates has been unable to convene. The first was in 1945, at the end of World War II, when TMA leadership added the bylaws provision for times of “catastrophe of national proportion.”

Due to state emergency restrictions, the proceedings took place before a live and online gathering of the Board of Trustees and outgoing president David C. Fleeger, MD. 

Acknowledging the unusual circumstances, Trustee Gary W. Floyd, MD, briefly donning a face mask, presided over the proceedings and said the Disaster Board worked to ensure a transparent and fair election process.

Dr. Fite installed as president

In administering the oath of office to Dr. Fite, Dr. Fleeger said, “her extensive experience in emergency medicine comes at a perfect time with so many unknowns for our patients, our communities, our economy, and our profession.”

Dr. Fite, an emergency medicine physician practicing in Houston for 40 years, unanimously won the TMA president-elect position at the 2019 meeting of the House of Delegates.

“The world and our own medical world have changed abruptly” since she was elected in May 2019, Dr. Fite said, adding that her immediate priorities as TMA president have shifted to “getting back to taking care of our patients safely” as physicians battle on and off the front lines to recover from the ravages of COVID-19.

“Doctors’ practices are in horrible financial shape … many employees now are without jobs … hospital-based physicians are having salaries cut and losing hours of work … while many of us place ourselves and our families in harm’s way,” she said.

Once the pandemic subsides, however, Dr. Fite plans to get back to her goals for TMA to tackle the long list of frustrations plaguing today’s physicians: quality measures, electronic health records, prior authorizations. Low Medicaid payment rates, she told Texas Medicine, have sunk to a “dangerous point.” (See “TMA Brings its Fite,” April 2020 Texas Medicine, pages 18-25, www.texmed.org/Fite.)

Dr. Fite takes the reins from Dr. Fleeger, who advocated for a patient- and physician-friendly solution to surprise billing, pushed to ensure that health teams are physician-led, and was a leading proponent of TMA’s Women Physicians Section.

“And then came COVID-19,” the Austin colon and rectal surgeon said in his farewell remarks. “An ongoing war to which physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals have risen to the occasion – and made us all proud.”

But Dr. Fleeger said the pandemic “has shown a light on the weaknesses of our health care infrastructure and on those it excludes,” highlighting Texas’ 5 million uninsured – the highest in the U.S.

He left his successors with a bold challenge “that as we create change, we do so in a way that will benefit all Texans, especially the least fortunate amongst us.”

View Dr. Fite’s and Dr. Fleeger’s speeches at www.texmed.org/About.

Dr. Villareal did not seem to shy away from that charge, saying in a statement, “I am so proud to be recognized as a leader in our organization – now more than 53,000 members strong – and look forward to continuing my work, my passion, and my energy for the continued protection of access to health care for all Texans in the way we have all been taught to practice medicine. Texas is changing. Medicine is changing. We must adapt to it. We owe this to those who have come before us and for those who will be coming after.”

Uncontested officers elected

Also on May 2, the Disaster Board acted on behalf of the house to conduct elections for uncontested positions, after having postponed contested races until a more appropriate time when the full house can meet, in person or virtually. The board reelected:

• Arlo F. Weltge, MD, a Houston emergency physician, as speaker of the TMA House of Delegates;
• Bradford W. Holland, MD, a Waco otolaryngologist, as vice speaker of the house; and
• Michelle A. Berger, MD, an Austin ophthalmologist, as secretary/treasurer.

The Board of Trustees elected:

• Dr. Floyd, a Keller pediatrician, as Board of Trustees chair;
• Richard Snyder II, MD, a Dallas cardiologist, as vice chair of the board; and
• Dr. Berger as board secretary.

The board also extended temporarily the service of former TMA President Doug Curran, MD (2018-19) to replace the vacancy created by the election of Dr. Villarreal as president-elect. Dr. Curran will serve in this role until the House of Delegates is able to hold contested elections for Board of Trustees positions.

Tex Med. 2020;116(6):47-48
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Last Updated On

June 01, 2020

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