Dr. Bonzo Reddick, professor and chair of community medicine, will receive the 2021 Family Medicine Physician of the Year Award from the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians on Nov. 12 at its annual meeting in Alpharetta. It’s the group’s highest honor.
At Mercer, Dr. Reddick’s research focuses on the promotion of health equity, particularly in historically marginalized populations. He practices at J.C. Lewis Primary Health Care Center, a clinic for underserved populations, including the homeless, in Savannah.
“The reason I went into family medicine is because I wanted to do a little bit of everything,” Dr. Reddick said. “But understanding what the community needs from me is what’s the most important thing, and so I’m happy to adapt.”
As part his work at J.C. Lewis, Dr. Reddick participates in a mobile clinic that visits various homeless camps in the Savannah area. The clinic, which is composed of an interdisciplinary team including psychiatrists and social workers, addresses acute problems, like injuries or skin infections, and offers regular well visits. Right now, the clinic also is providing COVID-19 vaccines for preventative care.
“People who don’t have permanent housing, there’s a lot of challenges they often face, and one of them is transportation,” Dr. Reddick said. “So, anything you can do to decrease some of those barriers is helpful.
“In addition, they have a lot of social factors that really impact their health in terms of exposure to the elements and the ability to store medications — just a lot of things that make treatment and care difficult for them.”
He also sees patients in the J.C. Lewis office, where he’s done a lot of work in women’s health.
Recognizing a community need surrounding HIV and hepatitis C led Dr. Reddick to research early diagnosis and management of the infections as well as harm reduction methods.
He started by screening people for HIV in order to get them care. When he discovered no one at the time was providing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an HIV prevention measure in which uninfected people who are exposed to the virus take HIV medicine to reduce their risk of becoming infected, he began offering that. He also started a clean needle program to prevent the spread of HIV.
“It’s kind of like a spiral that happens. HIV screening becomes HIV prevention becomes needle exchange programs, so all these things are kind of connected,” he said. “It’s all interdisciplinary work. A lot of times, I’m the only physician on the team.
“It’s a lot of what we teach our medical students about, which is that the way to really be effective is by working with others, often non-clinical teams, and really engaging communities.”
Dr. Reddick also has played a key role during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is among 14 members of the Georgia Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Health Equity Council and serves on the Savannah Mayor’s COVID-19 Medical Advisory Task Force and the Medical Advisory Committee for Savannah-Chatham County public schools. In July, he participated in an eight-person roundtable with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who was in Savannah to promote COVID-19 vaccination and address vaccine hesitancy.
Misinformation is the top challenge he faces in his COVID-19 work, particularly when it comes to vaccines, but most people are open to listening, he said.
“They really just want questions answered in a nonjudgmental way and really be hit with some facts, and they do want to hear from physicians,” he said. “A lot of people don’t have access to somebody they can have a nice long conversation with.”