Dr. Basel: Out From Behind the Scenes as COVID Expert
David Basel, MD, has always preferred to be behind the scenes… looking at trends and quality indicators, seeing patients and talking with colleagues.
So during the COVID-19 pandemic, how did this Avera physician become Avera’s “source of truth” and front-and-center spokesperson in videos, TV interviews and press conferences?
Basel disagrees that he’s the “smartest guy around.” “No, I know who the smartest people are.”
He reads, studies, discerns and filters all the information and misinformation to arrive at the truth. So instead of turning to the newsfeed headlines, people both inside and outside of Avera wanted to know: “What does Dr. Basel think?”
From Rural Beginnings
Basel grew up on modest family farm in Kansas. “My setting was so rural that I didn’t even think of medicine as a possibility,” Basel said. He pursued an engineering degree before considering medicine.
After working as a project engineer for a petroleum company, he decided to go back to school – medical school, this time – at the University of Kansas Medical School at Kansas City. In his residency at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, he combined the specialties of both pediatrics and internal medicine.
He partnered for life with Dayna Groskreutz, MD, and followed her to Iowa where she did her pulmonology and critical care fellowship. There, he got into population health, specifically trying to impact outcomes related to hypertension and diabetes.
The two decided to pursue a move closer to Dayna’s family, bringing them to Avera and Sioux Falls. She is a specialist in critical care, pulmonology and internal medicine; he began practicing at the Avera Medical Group in Harrisburg, S.D., and also assumed a role in Avera Medical Group Quality. Today he is Vice President for Avera Medical Group Clinical Quality.
“When I got hired, my joke was that I was the czar of orphan projects. I took on advance care planning, various clinic quality programs and trying to improve the percentage of people with hypertension and diabetes under control as well as rates of cancer screenings,” Basel said.
And COVID became one of those “orphan projects.”
Expert on All Things COVID
Basel had worked with a group of Avera leaders in the months before COVID hit, considering how the health system would respond to hypothetical situations.
On March 10, 2020, they were in an all-day planning session when everyone’s pagers and phones started going off that the first cases had been diagnosed. He then started working with a daily Incident Command which addressed issues such as testing, treatment, visitation, illness and exposure among staff and countless other topics.
Basel has done a couple hundred media interviews, press conferences, Facebook live events and appearances. Friends at church began to rib him that they played “Basel Bingo,” guessing what TV station they’d see him on next.
“I always say I have a face for radio and a voice for print,” Basel said. Yet he was willing to go on air to save lives and support weary caregivers; to boil down a sea of information to what’s most helpful: Should I get my child vaccinated? What will Delta or Omicron bring? Should I get a booster? Is it safe to go visit grandma? He made informed predictions about when surges would rise and wane.
With his wife caring for COVID patients in ICU, he understood what was happening at the front lines. He’s not only been there to encourage weary staff, he has taken shifts on the hospital COVID units to offer hands-on care during times of staff shortage.
A Statewide Impact
Basel was recognized recently with the South Dakota State Medical Association’s Community Service Award for his contributions during COVID.
Providing guidance for the health system and beyond, Basel has worked hard to form consensus, and was integral in building bridges with state officials and other health systems.
“As much as I can, I want to turn it around and lift up the heroes who were on the front lines of health care as well as the general public,” Basel said. “We all made sacrifices through COVID, whether it was giving up our social life or staying home to educate our kids. People lost jobs. They lost loved ones. The media saved lives by getting the word out. So many people stepped up to the plate, and had they not, it could have been so much worse.”
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