A Message from Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman

January 8, 2021

Dear Friends and Colleague:

Since last March we have endured a series of crises in the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic. This past Wednesday we experienced yet another in the form of the violent demonstrations that disrupted the constitutional process of certifying the election and defiled the Capitol building. These events added to our distress and also caused fears that this shameful and painful incident could further undermine faith in our government and erode our national solidarity. 

Ordinarily, the quadrennial occasion of a Presidential transition would be a true cause for celebration and national solidarity but the morally repugnant and demagogue-like behavior of government leaders and their followers has fouled the occasion and raised concerns about the nation’s future. While we do not have the authority or capacity to remove ourselves from the political quagmire in which we find ourselves, let me be clear that Columbia Psychiatry and NYSPI condemn the lawlessness and the political machinations that fomented it, and support for the peaceful transition of power. 

These events come as we receive the long-awaited vaccines, which mark the beginning of the end of the Pandemic. In doing so, they may heighten anxieties and sensitivities about how and when each of us (and then our patients and the rest of the population) will receive the vaccine, especially with all the rumors and misinformation going around. We are now faced with the challenge of administering the vaccine to all our members. The process for executing vaccine administration to our people was carefully planned and being managed by Evelyn Attia, Lou Baptista, Tom Smith, Rebecca Owens, Alicia Couraud, Rae Pascual among others. Our sources have been, up till this week, NYP and CHONY, now NYSPI. The NYSPI Gym was set up to administer the vaccine and rapid COVID testing was located in the first floor (formerly the mail room). 

Our first vaccine supply arrived at 10:00 a.m. 1/5/21. It was thawed, readied for administration and the first doses administered at 2:00 pm same day. To ensure that our front-line patient care staff were vaccinated first, Dr. Attia visited all inpatient units and support services departments to  inform people and encourage them to go to the Gym to be vaccinated.  By Thursday we had given out 206 doses and used every drop of our 20 vials. 

The 206 people represented a diverse range of employees of different gender, race, ethnicity and orientations. We have been told by Central Office that we will receive additional supplies of vaccine every Tuesday for the next two months to be administered to employee and patient groups as per the Governor’s orders. 

Following this message, in a separate email from Evelyn Attia and Lou Baptista, we will provide detailed information on current access to vaccination.

As we orchestrate this process, I ask that you remain patient and have confidence that we are committed to ensuring that every member of our department, whether you are paid by New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI), the Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene (RFMH) or Columbia, is vaccinated who wants to be as expeditiously as possible.

At the start of the pandemic, I stated that we have your back, and I stand by that pledge. For the Columbia Psychiatry/NYSPI community that has meant doing all we can to keep you safe from COVID-19. Now, keeping safe means ensuring that you have the opportunity to be vaccinated and encouraging you to do so. 

In closing, let me share something I heard from the CNN commentator Van Johnson. People usually say they “need to see something to believe it”. However, sometimes you need to believe something to see it. In the latter case it is the good that is occurring in the midst of these bad times and shocking events. In the past days and months, we have seen:

  • the miracle of Georgia cast off the specter of Jim Crow and the “Old South” to elect two new senators, one of African American one of Jewish American heritage; 
  • the election of President Biden and the first woman Vice President of color and Asian background; 
  • science near miraculously develop vaccines to rescue us from the SARS-Cov-2 virus; 
  • the medical community rise to heroically meet the challenge of caring for masses of patients during the pandemic;
  • the psychiatric community’s response to provide support to our colleagues on the front lines in the ED, ICU and Medical units;
  • our rapid efficient adaptation to the pandemic by using telemedicine and digital means of communication to sustain services to our patients;
  • the increased visibility, importance and appreciation of the medical community by our society.

Recognizing these Silver Linings enables us to see the good, the resilience and ways in which we can learn and grow from adversity. Above all, these should help us not to lose faith and become discouraged and dispirited by past events. 

I very much appreciate your forbearance, dedication and courage in dealing with these challenging times. In the coming weeks let’s keep our spirits up, stay focused on our mission and understand that we will emerge stronger, wiser and better able to fulfill our sacred mission. 

Thank you. 

Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD



COVID-19 vaccine