Joby Morrow , M.D., discusses challenges of facing COVID

Joby Morrow is a medical consultant who spreads knowledge about COVID-19, telehealth, mental health, and addiction relapse prevention and awareness.

SACRAMENTO, California — ABC10 is highlighting Black health care workers for Black History Month. As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world, health care workers were right there to provide patients with guidance and care.

Joby Morrow, M.D., is one of those health professionals in the Sacramento area. He was trained as a family medicine doctor, psychiatrist, and addiction medicine doctor at the UC Davis School of Medicine. He’s taken his expertise on to medical consulting in the areas of public health knowledge about COVID-19, helping companies transition to telehealth, mental health, and addiction relapse prevention and awareness.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.  

How do your three areas of expertise relate to the disproportionate number of Black people affected by COVID-19?

The pandemic has really exacerbated inefficiencies, inequalities, and inadequacies in a lot of our systems, and probably no more was that more apparent than when we started treating Black people, or more accurately, not treating Black people. When we first started with COVID-19 treatment, we started noting that Black people were getting screened less, tested less, and hospitalized less. Fortunately, those disparities has started to even out quite a bit. A study came out last month that showed when Black people do get into a hospital, their outcomes are actually better than the general population. That’s a wonderful thing. The problem was we were not getting folks into the hospital or the initial screening or testing, and that combined with preexisting comorbidities made their diseases worse when they got COVID-19. Between those two things, we were seeing higher death rates in Black people.

Black people don’t tend to get recognized as having addictive disorders or mental health disorders. That has been perpetually undertreated. COVID-19 has made that worse for the entire population and that has some specific manifestations and ramifications for the Black community. It’s more difficult for Black people to get access to mental health and addiction treatment. It’s more difficult for them to get screened and see providers they feel comfortable with. Once they are in a treatment setting, they are more likely to get kicked out of that setting despite not having anymore predilection to addiction or problematic behavior than any other group. They tend to get drug tested more and they tend to get admitted to treatment facilities and inpatient hospitalizations less. The Black community has always had a lot of access problems. COVID-19 really exacerbated that, especially because of the necessary transition to telehealth…which really started to poke at the digital divide.

What tips do you have for people trying to stay sober during the pandemic?

I have 10 short rules for staying sober during the pandemic:

  1. Look for the patterns 
  2. Eat consciously
  3. Ask for help when you need it
  4. Be intentional about how you sleep
  5. Limit your stresses
  6. Learn to get comfortable being in solitude
  7.  Listen to your body
  8. Give your emotions awareness without making them feel urgent
  9. Be patient
  10. Summon gentleness and be compassionate towards yourself

How has what you do changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic?

I have been much busier than I was beforehand. One aspect of my consultancy is helping companies transition over to telehealth. Telehealth had always been something that had been on the margins of how we delivered care partly because we had some concerns about privacy law, but of course, COVID-19 forced our hands. It was necessary for us to slow the spread and we needed to be able to have that as a primary tool in the way that health care was being delivered. There’s a lot of considerations about privacy, who’s got access to health care data and medical records. There are issues around access — not everybody has access to WIFI, especially in rural communities. 

Why did you want to become a doctor?

I wanted to become a doctor since I was six. I had a wonderful pediatrician. I enjoyed the way that he garnered a lot of respect and he seemed to know a lot about anything I or my mother asked about. One of the things that was a little bit difficult was that I had never met a Black physician before. There were a lot of ways in which I didn’t really know what to do. A lot of Black people find that when they’re the only ones in their classes or social circle, they’re kind of figuring it out as they go. If you have models, that’s a wonderful thing. We’ve certainly increased our density of Black health care providers but not as much as we ought to have in the last 40 years. 

When I was originally in medical school I wanted to be a pediatrician. As I went through medical school, I realized addiction medicine was really my calling. And then I really realized it was my calling when I realized my own addictive behavior back in 2012. I got help to get sober, and I’ve been sober for eight years. After that I realized, this is what I really need to. It gave me some insight into understanding that this is an extremely underserved area of medicine that I feel I can really make a difference in. Even as I’ve been out of direct clinical practice, it’s been a major area of focus in my consultancy.  

What does it mean for you to be a health care professional?

I am entrusted with a sacred responsibility to be the keeper of important information, the keeper of public trust and confidence, and the responsibility to be able to take something that might be complex and pretty nuanced and be able to deliver it in a simple and clear way to as many people as I know how to and in safe as a manner as I know how to. It’s an awesome responsibility.

Why do you celebrate Black History Month?

I celebrate Black History Month because it gives me a connection to who our people have been, who our people are becoming, and where we need to go. That has been really important for me to be able to understand, especially with the events of the last year where we have now both the health crisis that looks a lot like 1918 and a social environment that looks a lot like 1968. Here we are now reliving history, that at this point, we’ve only read about. Now we get to see history play out in real-time. If we had a solid grip on how our history has played out before, we’re more likely to make the right moves. The wonderful thing about Black people is that we learn, we forgive and we move forward. That is something we’re going to be able to do to navigate some of the challenges that we’ve got currently.

Read more from ABC10

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