Dr. Steppe Mette joined the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in April 2015 as chief clinical officer. He came from the Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he led the Department of Critical Care for six years and chaired critical care services for nine years. He also was president of the medical staff, director of the Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care and medical director of respiratory care. Mette also served as an associate professor at Boston’s Tufts University School of Medicine.
Mette is a graduate of the Cornell University College of Medicine and of Reed College in Portland, Oregon. He completed his internal medicine residency and clinical and research fellowships at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
How has the pandemic highlighted the fact that many people in the U.S. still lack health insurance?
The pandemic has underscored the health disparities that continue to exist in the United States. People of color and those without ready access to health care have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19. Many without insurance are in the United States illegally and do not seek health care for fear of deportation, and this worsens the public health crisis.
UAMS has always been a safety net hospital for patients regardless of insurance, and we continue our community outreach to help ensure everyone who needs our care receives it. Several months ago, we started a mobile COVID-19 screening and testing unit that travels to communities in Arkansas with limited or no access to testing. Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused many people to delay preventive care and scheduled follow-up visits. In our Emergency Department and across our hospitals and clinics, we are seeing patients who are sicker when they come to us.
Our clinics are safe, and our doors are open. We also have telemedicine and video visits widely available. It’s vital that people continue to see their doctor.
What does the public fail to understand about the impact of COVID on hospitals?
The stress on health care workers. This includes the fear of taking the virus home and infecting their family, the added work hours, the social impact of restricted visitation and the uncertainty of the political, social and economic changes. While our entire nation is feeling the strain of the pandemic and coincident political and economic challenges, health care workers have the added burden of work burnout.
The public probably doesn’t appreciate all the effort we take to ensure their safety while at UAMS. Everyone who comes to UAMS must pass a health screening before entering, and face masks are required. We limit visitors, use personal protective equipment and clean areas often to make UAMS a safe place to work and receive care.
What services would you like to expand at the hospital?
We have expanded and will continue to grow our digital health programs, especially for rural Arkansans. We are expanding cancer care, orthopedic and sports medicine services, cardiovascular health, behavioral health and women’s health services. We continue to grow cancer research, clinical trials and access to innovative treatments toward our goal of National Cancer Institute designation.
What do you like about running UAMS Medical Center?
I work with some of the finest people I’ve ever known, and we share a common commitment and a mission-driven view of health care. UAMS employees are hardworking, smart and dedicated. This is the best team I have worked with in my 35-year health care career. The pandemic demonstrated how those who work at UAMS are true members of the same team. There were lot of moving parts as we were forced to adapt quickly during the early days of the pandemic. Time and time again, the response to seemingly impossible requests was simply, “When do you need it."