Stories from the Frontline: The Mental Health Aspect of a Global Pandemic

Alicia Romeo, ’90, MD, a psychiatristOak Knoll alumna Alicia Romeo ’90, M.D., a psychiatrist with the Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina, isn’t a novice when it comes to helping patients cope with stress and anxiety. As a former Yale School of Medicine faculty member who worked with patients in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Shooting in 2012, Romeo is experienced in helping people exposed to trauma.

However, Romeo said the COVID-19 pandemic stirs up 9/11-related feelings for people and has added yet more stress for most of her patients. Romeo treats cancer patients who are battling anxiety and depression because of their disease.

“Coronavirus has added another intense layer of counseling for most of them,” Romeo said. “Our immunocompromised patients have already had to get used to living with cancer and now we’re helping them learn how to cope with yet another unprecedented hurdle,” Romeo explained.

Romeo, who said Oak Knoll taught her to help others and to be a compassionate person early on in life, sees on average about 10 new psychiatry oncology patients each week. After assessing their needs, she provides an individualized treatment plan consisting of therapy and medications for each patient.

Since COVID-19 began spreading throughout the United States, Romeo continues to help an influx of patients at her Institute, which she and colleagues prioritize based on acute need. Romeo is seeing a shift, however, in the severity of symptoms.

“Our patients are more anxious than ever because of the news; some may not be sleeping well and most patients, like many of us, are fearful of uncertainty,” she said. “We advise patients limit exposure to 24-hour news and try to maintain a normal routine and schedule.”

As the spread of coronavirus continues, Romeo will continue to serve her patients virtually but has already been told that she could, at any moment, be called to the hospital to treat overflow hospitalized patients.

“I have no idea what would then happen to those who need mental health counseling like my patients if I go,” said Romeo. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Stories from the Frontline is a signature Oak Knoll editorial feature that aims to highlight all of the hardworking alumnae/i of Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child who are out on the frontlines of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. These alumnae/i may be in the medical, law enforcement, and other emergency service fields. Do you know someone we should talk to? Email

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