By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Hailing from a medical family and drawn to the field as a high school student, the newly hired chief medical officer at St. Joseph’s Hospital-South in Riverview is no stranger to emergency situations.
At the hospital off Big Bend Road, Dr. Christopher E. Bucciarelli started his new job Aug. 2, charged with keeping staff current on health regulations and training new physicians on hospital policies. Moreover, Dr. Bucciarelli is set to provide clinical oversight to physicians, evaluate quality of services and ensure regulatory compliance.
It’s a tall order, and especially so in pandemic times, as infections rise and admittance numbers increase for hospitals charged to handle the infection surge.
“Over half of our beds are for COVID patients, and we’re making new ICU beds every day,” Bucciarelli said in an interview Aug. 22. “It’s a very stressful and trying time, and we’re taking every measure we can to stay focused on the mission, which is to provide the best care we can.”
Dr. Bucciarelli is no stranger to life-and-death concerns. A board-certified emergency medicine physician, he earned his doctor of medicine degree from the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he completed his residency at the UF Shands Hospital. He also earned a master of business administration (MBA) degree from Duke University in North Carolina.
“One of the things that drove me to emergency care was the critical aspect of it,” Bucciarelli said. “You have the capability to have such a positive impact on someone instantly.”
Affiliated with Bay Area Emergency Physicians in Clearwater, Bucciarelli said he will continue to work “a shift or two weekly” at BayCare’s Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, where, starting in March 2020, he worked as assistant chief medical officer.
Variety also drew Bucciarelli to his specialty, “where you always have to be ready and on your toes, because you don’t know what’s going to walk through the door.”
Hailing from what he calls “a strong medical family,” Bucciarelli said conversations around the dinner table were not your typical ones.
“My dad was a neonatologist, working with premature babies,” Bucciarelli said. “Mom was in blood-banking and taught at the University of Florida College of Nursing. My sister, an art therapist by trade, until recently was teaching at the Innovation Academy at UF. She is now getting a Ph.D.[in] psychology.”
A high school anatomy class secured for Bucciarelli his interest in a medical career. “I just became very fascinated with the physiology of the human body, how all these tiny parts work together to make one human,” Bucciarelli said.
As chief medical officer, Bucciarelli said his job is oversight of the medical staff, “from beginning to end,” starting with credentialing. “We want to make sure we have the highest quality providers working here,” Bucciarelli said. “Being that guardian is one aspect of the job.”
Bucciarelli said it is rare to work at a young hospital growing at such an exponential rate. Since opening in 2015, St. Joseph’s Hospital-South has doubled in size to 223 beds overall.
“The bells and whistles here are amazing,” Bucciarelli said. “State-of-the-art equipment allows us to provide high quality, cutting-edge care.”
Thanks to the unrelenting press of the coronavirus and its highly contagious Delta variant, these are challenging times for medical practitioners.
“Not only are the providers and medical staff stressed, your hospitals are full,” Buccarelli said. “My job is to help secure an atmosphere of stability so that we’re able to push forward, think clearly and continue, despite the craziness around us, to provide high quality care to patients. This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.”
St. Joseph’s Hospital-South is part of Tampa Bay’s 15-hospital BayCare Health System, including South Florida Baptist Hospital in Plant City; St. Joseph’s Hospital-North in Lutz; and St. Joseph’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital and St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa.
“If one hospital is short of some device or some intervention that’s needed, we’re able to reach out to family members very quickly to help each other out,” Bucciarelli said. “Being part of a such a big system, we can make those transitions happen very quickly.”
As trying as the times are, Bucciarelli said it helps to focus on “lessons learned that you might not even realize until later on, which will be very valuable moving forward if, heaven forbid, we’re in a scenario like this again.”
Meanwhile, the wear and tear on family members is formidable.
“I also think of my family as the healthcare providers: the doctors, nurse technicians, the staff I work with and the administration I have the pleasure of being a part of,” Bucciarelli said. “We’re always here to support each other. Our focus is to make sure all of our providers, from start to finish, are given the tools and resources they need to do the best job they can, to make sure that our community is safe.”
The community can do its part as well.
“If you haven’t been vaccinated, get vaccinated,” Bucciarelli said. “You’re not only protecting yourself, you’re protecting your family and loved ones. Have a mask and mask up. Make sure you’re doing good hand washing and try to be as safe as you can out there.”
St. Joseph’s Hospital-South, at 6901 Simmons Loop, can be reached at 813-302-8000. Visit: www.BayCare.org/.