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Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine speaks during a press conference on April 8.

MONTPELIER – Every year the Vermont Medical Society (VMS) recognizes five people who have made outstanding contributions to the health and well-being of Vermonters. This year, the awards went to people who have contributed to combatting COVID-19 in Vermont and the country, beginning with Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

Levine, of Essex, is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, the highest award VMS gives to one of its members. The award recognizes “meritorious service in the science and art of medicine and for outstanding contributions to the medical profession, its organizations, and the welfare of the public,” according to a statement from VMS.

VMS Council-member, Dick Butsch, M.D., said of Levine, “In a few short months he has undoubtedly saved so many lives and preserved the health of so many people…Most importantly he has established Vermont as the single healthiest state in our country in terms of the SARS-CoV2 Pandemic.”

“Levine was nominated for his tireless work mitigating the impact of the COVID pandemic on all Vermonters and his effectiveness at keeping the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Vermont at some of the lowest in the country. During the pandemic, he has not only spent countless hours obtaining the latest, evidence-based information regarding COVID, but has also consistently and calmly communicated this information and sound public health guidance, to clinicians and all Vermonters. His cogent presentations to both the leaders and the citizens of the state has seen to it that Vermont has been guided through this unprecedented medical event by adhering to the best guidelines that science and clinical expertise can provide. Dr. Levine’s nominators state that he is a thoughtful and calm leader with the highest level of professionalism and evidence-based practice,” VMS said is a statement.

VMS President Catherine Schneider, M.D., said, “Dr. Levine, you have presented yourself, and hence our profession, to the citizens of Vermont as knowledgeable, competent and compassionate. By exercising the best tenets of our profession in this time of crisis, you have elevated us all. For these reasons you have been chosen to receive this award.”

Levine was named the Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health in March 2017. Prior to his appointment, he was a professor of medicine at the University of Vermont, associate dean for graduate medical education, and designated institutional official at the College of Medicine and UVM Medical Center. He received his B.A. in biology from the University of Connecticut and M.D. from the University of Rochester. He completed his internal medicine residency and chief resident year at the University of Vermont, and a fellowship in general internal medicine at the University of North Carolina.

The Physician of the Year Award for 2020 is being give to Berlin physician Jessie Leyse, an infectious disease specialist at the Central Vermont Medical Center (CVMC).

Leyse reportedly worked day and night during the height of the pandemic and continues to endeavor patiently to provide patients and staff alike with answers to questions; adjusting PPE, treatment, testing and staff furlough algorithms weekly. In a statement VMS said, “Dr Leyse’s dedication and commitment helped establish CVMC as a leader among hospitals across the state, with her innovative pandemic protocols. This leadership impacted CVMC’s ability to respond to the pandemic and the overall health of the broader community.”

Leyse’s nominator called her a “one-woman-infectious-disease guru” and describes her as not only a great physician, but a tireless mom with a calm, kind yet quick-witted disposition.

Leyse attended Loyola University Chicago for college and medical school. She did a combined residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Baystate Medical Center in Massachusetts and attended Dartmouth Hitchcock for an Infectious Disease fellowship. While there, she obtained her Master’s in Public Health as well as doing a residency in Preventive Medicine. Leyse has traveled internationally to provide medical care including to the Philippines, Guatemala, Haiti, Sub-Saharan Africa, and West Africa during the Ebola outbreak.

The Physician of the Year Award is granted annually to a physician licensed in the state of Vermont who has demonstrated: outstanding performance in the quality of care given to his/her patients; skillful and compassionate patient care; and dedication to the welfare of patients in accordance with accepted principles of good medical practice.

Jean Anderrson-Swayze, M.D., of Middlebury, has been selected to receive the Physician Award for Community Services for 2020. Anderrson-Swayze, a family medicine physician, was nominated for this year’s award for her dedication to international public health and her consistent bravery in helping people who are experiencing times of struggle. She has brought her expertise around the world and volunteered during countless emergency health crises.

This April, Anderrson-Swayze spent a week in New York City, volunteering as a member of the International Medical Corps Disaster Response Team to a COVID surge at Maimonides Hospital in New Yoirk City. When she returned to Vermont her experience led to early and effective COVID-19 testing in the Middlebury community, keeping patients out of the emergency rooms, according to VMS. She has volunteered to provide medical assistance after health crises in Haiti, Houston, Puerto Rico, Florida and Bahamas. She has also travelled to Greece and Bangladesh to work with refugees and volunteers with Meals on Wheels and at the Open-Door Clinic at home in Vermont.

Anderrson-Swayze practices at the Middlebury Family Health Clinic in Middlebury, Vermont and attended Middlebury College before completing her medical training at the UVM College of Medicine and her residency at Fletcher Allen.

The Physician Award for Community Services is granted annually to physicians who have compiled an outstanding record of community service, which, apart from his or her specific identification as a physician, reflects well on the profession.

The Citizen of the Year Award recipient for 2020 is Senator Virginia “Ginny” Lyons of Willison. Senator Lyons, the current Chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, has served in the Vermont legislature for twenty years. Her nomination identifies Lyons as a steadfast advocate for public health issues and a true champion for Vermonters’ health. While in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, Lyons “has been at the forefront of public health policy and worked tirelessly to pass legislation to raise the age for tobacco purchases to 21, to ban tobacco flavors, to protect our youngest population by banning crib bumpers and to support reproductive rights. Senator Lyons believes in science, in evidence, and in the experts, and is a true collaborator who works in partnership to make sure that science and evidence is heard from those who dedicate their lives to the practice of medicine,” VMS said in a statement.

The Citizen of the Year Award is given to a non-physician resident of the state of Vermont who in the past and presently has made a significant contribution to the health of the people of Vermont.

Anthony Fauci, M.D., has been selected to receive the VMS Founder’s Award for 2020, for his stalwart leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Founders’ Award is presented to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding leadership, vision, and achievement in improving the health of Vermonters and all Americans.

Dr. Fauci’s nomination states, “in this time when so many seem to be turning away from the science and the evidence, you have been a steadfast pillar, constantly bringing us back to these tools that we know are the only way we will be able to help our patients – improving the health of Vermonters and all Americans.”

Dr. Fauci is an immunologist who has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. He attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. After graduating first in his class from New York City’s Cornell Medical College in 1966, he completed his internship and residency at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.

The VMS Physician Leadership Awards for 2020 will be presented during the awards ceremony being held on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, as a part of the Vermont Medical Society’s 207th Virtual Annual Meeting for VMS members and Vermont’s healthcare community. To learn more, go to vtmd.org/annual-meeting.

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