December 31, 2018, marked the retirement of Flint vascular surgeon Carlo A. Dall’Olmo, M.D. Over his entire career and with every ounce of his being, Dall’Olmo championed the cause of leading-edge vascular care for the Flint and Genesee County communities. Reflecting on the past, Dall’Olmo remarks, “What else is there to say? It’s been a good run.”
Actually, there is plenty to say. Stepping down while in his 44th year of practice, Dall’Olmo remains vibrant and optimistic about both the resilience of this community and the advancements of vascular care, from prevention, to surveillance, to medical management, to state-of-the-art surgical interventions.
Dall’Olmo was born in San Marino, one of world’s smallest countries. San Marino is landlocked, surrounded by Italy, and is said to be the world’s oldest surviving republic. Dall’Olmo came to America with his family in 1948 at the age of 5 and settled in the Detroit area. He then came to Flint in 1975, following his vascular surgery fellowship at Henry Ford Hospital, under the direction of vascular pioneer Emerick Szilagyi, M.D., and joined Albert J. Macksood, M.D., and Frederick W. Sherrin, M.D., at what is now Michigan Vascular Center.
Unfortunately, a deep economic depression began in the early 1980s as GM downsized its workforce from a 1978 high of 80,000 to under 8,000 by 2010. Not to be outdone, in 1983 Congress amended the Social Security Act to include a national diagnosis-related group– based hospital “prospective payment” system for all Medicare patients, in an effort to rein in spending. Cost-conscious health systems, especially community hospitals, began competing vigorously for resources. Fewer jobs, fewer residents and a new system of reimbursement set the stage for the majority of Dall’Olmo’s career.
Undaunted, Dall’Olmo accepted the challenge of providing leading-edge vascular care and continued to look for opportunities to keep this community, his community, on par with the nation’s leading institutions. Sometimes as the primary lead on projects and sometimes as a primary supporter for other members of Michigan Vascular Center, Dall’Olmo encouraged the concept of best practices. This included standardized group-wide protocols for patient care, exploration of new techniques, use of new medical devices and advancement of technology. Again and again, he would meet with hospital leadership, medical device companies and medical equipment manufacturers, in an effort to secure critical resources.
On the private practice side, Dall’Olmo has led and inspired the development of specialty areas that improve patient care and access. They include vascular ultrasound testing, in-office procedure rooms, a vein clinic (VeinSolutions), a mobility center with an in-house prosthetist, a research department and a 501(c)(3) vascular research center with a primary purpose “to educate the public and promote public awareness of vascular diseases and their prevention and treatment.” Dall’Olmo personally performed free vascular health screenings at health fair venues, such as schools, churches and shopping centers. Once, he even took several staff members and ultrasound machines to the state capitol in Lansing and screened the majority of the state senators and representatives. Free screening continues to be offered every day at Michigan Vascular Center through a program called ASAP: Assess your risk for Stroke, Aneurysm and Peripheral arterial disease.
With regard to prevention, he developed a blood pressure screening program for inner-city eighth graders, complete with electronic blood pressure cuffs and educational lectures on healthy lifestyle habits. This program was a result of the high numbers of young African-American males coming to the clinic with renal failure as the first manifestation of their previously unknown and uncontrolled hypertension, a tragic and life-changing event.
Dall’Olmo has an insatiable appetite for learning and for sharing what he has learned. After traveling to Italy in 2001, to learn the newly required skills for carotid stenting, he not only secured membership in numerous clinical trials, but he also developed a carotid stent training program in Flint. For the next several years, over 60 vascular surgeons from nearly every state in the union would take part in this program. At that time, few vascular surgeons had the experience or the opportunity to gain experience in carotid stenting. A number of years later, at the request of the national Society for Vascular Surgery, Dall’Olmo and his partners led a four-year quest to develop an accredited vascular fellowship program, which includes the three area hospitals, Flint Area Medical Education, Michigan State University and Michigan Vascular Center. After opening in 2012, the Michigan Vascular Center/Michigan State University Vascular Fellowship Program has now graduated four vascular fellows, is currently training three fellows and has matched with two prospective fellows, who will be starting in August of 2019.
In addition to practicing the surgical and medical side of vascular surgery, Dall’Olmo has spent countless hours studying organizations. He has learned about what makes great organizations great and how it is that some organizations can survive over time, from one generation to the next. For him, just as important as the group’s accomplishment to date are the group’s future accomplishments. For his part, Dall’Olmo worked with his partners to develop a purpose, core values and a vision for the organization. Understanding that an organization can never fully achieve its vision, that continued success is predicated on change, he helped develop an organizational culture that understands it is destined to be on a “never-ending learning curve of change.” But guiding that change is a principle that puts “the patient first, the organization second and the individual physician third,” he says. His impact on this community, like the power of an ocean, cannot be quantified.