Top Doctors 2021: Covid Warrior

EvergreenHealth was the first hospital in the United States to confirm community spread of Covid-19

By Edited and Condensed by Rob Smith May 17, 2021


This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Seattle magazine.

Name: Francis X. Riedo, M.D.

Practice and Hospital Affiliation: I am EvergreenHealth’s Medical Director of Infection Control and Prevention and have been with the health system for almost 30 years. EvergreenHealth is located in Kirkland and is an integrated health care system serving nearly one million residents in King and Snohomish counties. I specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases. My work focuses on infection control — identifying infections, understanding how they spread and stopping their transmission. I’m also involved in research, investigating potential treatments through clinical trials and basic scientific studies. As you can imagine, my focus for the past year has been mostly on the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Why did you pick your specialty? From a young age, I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in medicine. After completing my undergraduate degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado–Boulder, I went on to attend medical school at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. 

From there, I completed my internship and residency at Oregon Health & Sciences University before moving on to a clinical fellowship in infectious disease at the University of Texas Southwestern. During that time, I did research on bacterial toxins. I subsequently moved to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where I served in the United States Public Health Service as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer. During those two years, I participated in field work in Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Saudi Arabia investigating outbreaks of meningitis or assessing health systems in refugee camps. Ultimately, I realized how much I missed taking care of patients, so I opted to return to clinical work, which led me to EvergreenHealth, where I’ve been since 1991.

What do you wish people knew about your specialty? I think many more people know about my specialty now because of the pandemic. I believe that my training, experience, academic and professional life prepared me for this moment in my career. One part of this role that I cannot emphasize enough is a message of preparedness. You can dig out after the fact, but it is a lot harder to regain your footing once you’re in a storm. It’s important to look for opportunities to prepare, train and establish protocols with people at every level in your response to infectious diseases. 

However, as we’ve seen through the unfolding situation with Covid-19, it’s nearly impossible to establish routine and be prepared when there’s constant change. With my specialty, I’ve found that staying grounded in science, being nimble and having a willingness to redirect and change course when necessary are key.

How will the pandemic change your practice? I believe that the pandemic has already greatly changed EvergreenHealth and our world. Covid-19 has really been a capstone to my career. The improbability of having the nation’s first confirmed cases of community-spread Covid-19 was striking. I was in my office, Friday night, February 28, 2020, and I received a call at 7:40 p.m. from Dr. Meagan Kay, a medical epidemiologist for Public Health – Seattle & King County. 

After the CDC had expanded its testing guidelines for Covid-19 to include patients with severe unexplained lower respiratory infections, including pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), I sent Dr. Kay swabs from two patients at EvergreenHealth who were critically ill on ventilators, but had tested negative for influenza and other common respiratory diseases. I suspected they would test negative for SARS-CoV-2, but that evening, I received a call from Dr. Kay informing me that, indeed, both samples we had sent were positive. My first reaction was skepticism, but Dr. Kay quickly confirmed that EvergreenHealth became the first hospital in the United States to confirm community spread of Covid-19. 

EvergreenHealth had the advantage of being just the right size organization, big enough to have the resources to be the first to respond at scale to the impending pandemic, while also being small enough to be nimble in our response, with the ability to quickly pivot and change course as we learned more about the novel coronavirus. 

I believe that if the pandemic taught me anything, it’s that preparedness counts, and so does having a team who can respond with precision and urgency and work in collaboration when it matters most. That takes years of groundwork and thousands of small steps. It is a culture that depends on relationships that you develop over time and nourish. We were fortunate to have planned for the pandemic along the way, and those preparations plans, relationships and trained staff helped with our response. 

This feature is a part of our 21st annual list of the region’s best physicians. View the list here. 

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