Q&A: Hazel Health CMO Dr. Rob Darzynkiewicz


Nicole Pasia


Dr. Rob Darzynkiewicz is the Chief Medical Officer at Hazel Health, a pediatric telehealth provider covering Florida, Texas, and other states. During the pandemic, Hazel Health has stepped in to provide COVID-19 screening assistance to nurses as children return to school. 

In this Q&A, Dr. Darzynkiewicz addressed parent concerns over the vaccine, filling gaps in child health care during the pandemic, and impact of data on improving community trust in the health care system.


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Nicole Pasia: As the largest telehealth provider for K-12 schools across the country, what are your clients most concerned about as kids go back to school? How is Hazel Health working with school nurses and other local health care systems to address those concerns?


Dr. Rob Darzynkiewicz: “There are tricky cases in which we’ve been able to help. For example, if a child comes in with known allergy symptoms but they trigger the COVID protocol … if he has itchy eyes, no other symptoms — maybe the child was already vaccinated —  they can do a quick visit [at Hazel Health]. We can get more history, not just from the child, but also reach out to the parent and get more history, and also balance the school district’s COVID protocol as well …

We believe a healthy child is a child that’s ready to learn and so we can get them feeling better. We can help them manage their condition while they connect back to their local [primary care provider] … really being solid partners to say, ‘I’m sorry mom or dad but your child does have symptoms of COVID. These are the next steps. This is how to protect your child, test your child, protect your child from any future complications like [multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C)].”


NP: With the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fully approving the Pfizer vaccine for people aged 16 and older, there is talk of granting full approval for children ages 12 to 15 next. What are you hearing from parents who are still undecided on getting their kids vaccinated? 


RD:  “There was a lot of news of young adults — very small, minor percentage — getting pericarditis or myocarditis after vaccinations, and so, the overall gist that I’ve read and that I’ve heard is that parents are thinking to themselves, ‘Okay, my child has a low risk of having complications for COVID. Now I’m going to get them an injection and now I’m reading that there’s a risk of some inflammation of the heart, after injection.” [It’s] scary and that’s absolutely 100% a valid concern for parents …

If you look at the data, your child has a higher, much higher chance of having inflammation in the heart from getting COVID-19, so getting them protected is huge. Also, a majority of these cases do great with some Tylenol or steroids, and they’re doing great and there’s been no long term issues that we’ve noticed, but that’s hard for parents to understand.”


NP: When looking at some of the data around COVID cases in Florida, what stands out to you?


RD: “Looking at Florida, Florida has really increased its pediatric numbers more than any of the other states that we’ve had … when you have more numbers, you’re going to have more of those cases. It’ll still be a low percentage, but you’ll just have more kids with MIS-C-19, of pericarditis, of long term COVID, because of the numbers.  

I have to give credit to Florida for having that data available because Texas, on the other hand, on their websites, has not been as robust in reporting COVID cases. As a clinician, it’s hard  — and I am not someone who does public health —  but I can only imagine if you’re not publishing data, just like anything else in this world, medicine is based on trust … that the system, the doctor, the people, are looking out for the patient. 

So, it’s hard in Texas when you don’t get the data, and trusting what the leaders are really looking for … even if policies on masking and unmasking, which has been politicized, unfortunately, we can at least follow the data and make recommendations. [We can] give people strength to believe in what they’re doing because they have trust in data. Those are the two kinds of dichotomy states that have been really interesting to see.”


NP: Looking ahead to the long-term effects of the pandemic, what is Hazel Health most concerned about? 


RD: “Today, it’s obviously mental health, and Hazel Health has a behavioral health team to really identify children who need behavioral health [care], knowing that it’s so hard to get mental health help. Our goal has always been to leverage technology to make it easier for families to get care and to get help.

When we talk about inequities in health care, it’s always been there … long term, it’s just really keeping those inequities — and what we call gaps in care — top of mind. We’re hearing children are now missing their regular vaccinations and children have missed their well child visit. Children are having gaps, whether or not they have their inhaler or their medication, and so I think going forward [we’re] really identifying every gap that a child can have …

… so, as I mentioned earlier, they can trust the system. I think that’s one thing that we’ve all been struggling with now is, ‘Who do we trust now in this time of pandemic?’ I think everyone’s trying to figure that one out and so going forward, ‘How can we build something where people can trust it?’ We’re looking at the best interest for their children, for their families, and for their communities.”


This interview has been edited for clarity and length.