• March 6, 2021

Pandemic spurred Saravanan to action - Odessa American: Local News

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Pandemic spurred Saravanan to action

New doctor helped organize community stakeholders

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  • Helping Out

    Odessa Regional Medical Center & Scenic Mountain Medical Center's Chief Operating Officer Dr. Rohith Saravanan poses for photo Thursday at Odessa Regional Medical Center.

Posted: Sunday, February 21, 2021 5:00 am

Dr. Rohith Saravanan was an Odessa newcomer when the COVID-19 pandemic began creeping in and he saw the need for leadership.

The 39-year-old chief medical officer at Odessa Regional Medical Center formed a community stakeholders group of 20 and helped generate a coordinated response.

Now they’ve put an app on their “COVID in the Basin” website where citizens may check on testing, vaccines, treatments and other matters.

“We needed to respond in a unified fashion, but each entity was responding on its own,” Saravanan said. “There was no coordination. So last March or April I called a meeting of people from the schools, the college and university, business leaders, the hospitals, the county and the city.

“I gave them scientific information that they found a lot of value in and we had a unified front.”

The app is updated weekly by Saravanan, his wife, Dr. Sara Amiri, and Venu Yankarla of Keystone IT Solutions.

Saravanan is a native of Nagercoil in South India who earned degrees at McMaster University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where his parents have settled, and St. George’s University Medical School in Grenada before doing research in facial and cranial surgery at Columbia University and clinical training at three hospitals in New York City. He is a family practice physician.

He worked for 10 years in Buffalo, N.Y., and in May 2019 became chief medical officer at ORMC and Scenic Mountain Medical Center in Big Spring. He also has an executive MBA degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Saravanan and his wife, who is an internist and pediatric medicine specialist, have two children. His father was an accountant and his mom a teacher. His sister Arthy is a breast radiologist in Austin.

“Medicine is a big passion of my mother’s,” he said. “She grew up in a household where all four of her brothers were in medical school and she wanted to help her kids pursue medicine.

“My overall goal has always been to make a positive change in communities and to make sure hospitals are fully prepared with hospitalizations, intensive care units and ventilators. Second, I want to educate the community on how to prevent the spread and keep ourselves safe and healthy with good information and good leadership.

“I love to teach, lead and achieve things together as a team,” Saravanan said. “Those are the things that keep you going from day to day.”

He said times have changed in that patients are called on to take part in their care rather than just being told what to do by their doctors. “It has become more of a partnership,” Saravanan said.

“It won’t last forever if a person receiving counsel from their physician doesn’t understand or buy what he is telling them. If they understand and follow through, then you have made a change for life.

“It’s very important to have that buy-in so patients have ownership and are engaged with their doctors. There is so much more to life than taking medicines.”

The Saravanans hike, bike, swim and travel widely and in the past five years they’ve made a series of charitable medical trips to Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Their pleasure travels have been to India, Iran, the Caribbean and around the United States from Florida to Hawaii. They’ve hiked in the Hill Country, the Monahans Sandhills, Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands National Monument in New Mexico and in the Fort Davis area.

“I enjoy studying cultures,” Saravanan said. “I worked at a refugees’ clinic in Buffalo and met Burmese, Somalis, Nepalis, Iraqis and Afghanis. It was good to realize what they had gone through and the struggles they’d had. “We hike in the mountains and explore rivers and waterfalls and we want to visit Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, Utah and Colorado.”

Another of the doctor’s enthusiasms is a variety of foods, particularly spicy ones, although he has yet to develop a taste for hot sauce. “I’m a huge foodie,” he said.

“My favorite thing is a bazaar with recipes from different parts of the world like Africa, Asia, Australia and Canada. I like a lot of different flavors in my mouth.”

Enjoying the Permian Basin’s warmer climate, Saravanan has been interested to learn about ranching, West Texas slang like “y’all and fixin’ to” and Texas barbecue. “We’re happy here,” he said.

“We have always put down roots. The only challenging thing for us in this community is a lack of diversity in thought processes. I’d like to expose people to more things and give them a chance to experience what we have experienced.”

ORMC President Stacey Brown said Saravanan “is a great leader and a greater physician.

“I cannot imagine having gone through this pandemic without him on our team because he has been an incredible resource, not only for both hospitals but also for our community leaders,” Brown said. “He does a good job of putting things in terms that lay people can understand.

“In an environment that was changing day by day and sometimes minute by minute, Rohith stood out as someone who was knowledgeable and trustworthy. He is not too busy to help anyone and he quickly rose to the top of our community.”

Brown said Saravanan “is just a really good man from professional and personal standpoints.”

“He cares about people and his life’s mission is to make the world a better place,” she said. “He and Sara spend their own money to go on mission trips to other countries.”

Brown said Saravanan is a good leader “because he listens to make sure he understands the situation at hand and then he questions things.

“He is data-driven,” Brown said. “He looks for the facts.”

A stakeholder who joined Saravanan’s group was ECISD Superintendent Scott Muri. “Rohith is highly intelligent and knowledgeable in his field,” Muri said.

“He develops a lot of trust and he won our confidence. He is a man of character and wisdom who makes compassionate decisions that are clearly in the best interest of families. His level of concern for our community made him a leader and he rose to the occasion. His impact was significant.

“He is a man of integrity and great character who is so passionate about his work because he truly cares about people and their well-being.”

Noting that he has gotten to know Saravanan personally, Muri said, “We still talk about what we’re doing as a school system and we listen closely to our medical community, including Dr. Timothy Benton (regional chairman and associate dean for clinical affairs at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center)” he said.

“Those two voices have been predominant. While the pandemic has kept most of us apart, it has also brought us together.”

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