Q & A with Lucia Acosta-Castillejo from Monroe County Medical Society

New executive director reflects on the 200th anniversary of Monroe County Medical Society; discusses challenges that lie ahead

By Mike Costanza


Since it was formed in Rochester on May 9, 1821, the Monroe County Medical Society has grown into a nonprofit that serves 1,275 physicians in Monroe and six other counties, along with their practice staff and patients. Lucia Acosta-Castillejo, MS, who became the medical society’s executive director in November, spoke to In Good Health about the organization’s goals, and the challenges it faces as it celebrates its 200th anniversary.

Q. What is the Monroe County Medical Society’s mission?

A. To unite to consider and act on matters affecting the practice of medicine, to extend medical knowledge, and to enlighten the public in the best interest of the health of the people of Monroe and surrounding counties. We also offer significant advocacy at the local and state levels for its physician-membership. Additionally, we provide support to physicians’ practices and education for physicians and their practice staff.

Q. What challenges did the coronavirus pandemic present for the Monroe County Medical Society when the virus hit the Rochester area?

A. I would say that the biggest issue initially was the shock of the global pandemic and its effects on our society and the membership we serve, who are physicians, practice staff, the community and patients. Not much was known about [coronavirus], and I think the fact that this all happened so quickly, and everything was shut down, really left people feeling kind of alone and isolated.

Q. Were there other challenges, as well?

A. There was no vaccine. There were healthcare disparities amongst different ethnic groups. There was absolutely a shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) at that time back in March.

Q. How did the Monroe County Medical Society respond to those problems?

A. The challenge of the pandemic was, and continues to be to some extent, that things were changing on a frequent basis, sometimes at an hourly basis. The Monroe County Medical Society’s response to that was keeping our physician-membership, our constituents informed. The previous executive director [Christopher Bell] was sending out regular daily emails to our constituents as he got information, and was very much involved at the local level to stay on top of things. The other thing that Chris and the medical society did to keep our membership up to date was host several webinars to ensure that [members are] up to date on a variety of critical topics. There were both clinical and business-related webinars that were held to address areas such as medicine and telehealth. Because of the pandemic, telehealth services just skyrocketed.

Q. What about the shortages of PPEs and other critical equipment that medical practitioners and their staff’s need to stay safe from the virus while treating patients?

A. As far as the PPE shortage, I know that [Bell] worked with the community and with the staff to distribute more than 8,500 disposable masks, over 700 N95 masks, 1,200 face shields and whatever additional protective equipment to physicans that was requested. In some cases, the society bought them. It also worked quite aggressively with some other organizations, such as Face Shields Roc. That’s a group of more than 50 volunteers who provided more than 20,000 face shields to health care providers. Most, if not all, practitioners and physicians now have a supply of PPE.

Q. What kinds of measures does the medical society take now to help its members stay informed about coronavirus and its treatment?

A. We’ve been working quite intimately with the Monroe County Department of Health and with the University of Rochester Medical Center, which has been designated the Finger Lakes COVID-19 vaccine hub. I also sit on the Finger Lakes COVID-19 vaccine task force. I see myself as the voice and the advocate for all of our medical society constituents, and a particularly strong voice for our private doctors.

Q. Three vaccines have been approved for emergency use against the coronavirus, but there are still not enough doses to meet US needs. How is the medical society assisting physicians who can’t obtain vaccines?

A. I’m really staying on top of relaying the information about vaccine clinics, and making sure that I’m disseminating that information to our constituents. I have also partnered with other organizations that are trying to push out the vaccine, and I’m able to provide that information to our membership and refer people over to their vaccine clinic. The medical society is not a practice—we don’t do vaccinations here.

Q. Has the medical society been providing vaccination site information to private citizens, as well?

A. The medical society is open to receiving calls from the community, and referring people to vaccine clinics.

Q. How do the physicians you serve feel about the vaccine shortfall?

A. Definitely doctors are feeling frustrated, and I’m talking probably more so on behalf of the private doctors. Private physicians who have registered to be vaccinators are waiting for a supply of vaccine, and yet the governor has not assigned any vaccines to private practitioners. That’s the part that is particularly frustrating. Those that are affiliated with one of the health systems are receiving the vaccine.

Q. What challenges face the Monroe County Medical Society in the coming months and years?

A. Number one is continuing to work with community leaders and organizations like the county and the health systems to ensure that the majority of our population has access to a vaccine. Beyond that, it’s to get to a place where there’s a sense of normalcy in the community again and people feel safe to go out without masks to dinner with their families, or just to have fun.

For more information on the Monroe County Medical Society, go to: https://mcms.org