NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — With New York’s coronavirus infection rate now the lowest in the nation, experts are calling the state America’s success story.
But it wasn’t easy and there were bumps along the way.
CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez recently sat down with the president and CEO of Northwell Health to talk about important lessons learned during the pandemic.
Michael Dowling heads the largest private healthcare system in the Tri-State Area. Through its 23 hospitals and nearly 800 outpatient facilities, Northwell Health treated nearly 50,000 patients that tested positive for COVID-19. You learn a lot during a crisis and Dowling has written it all down in “Leading Through a Pandemic,” so that next time, and there will be a next time, we can do even better.
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It is a remarkable playbook for handling a healthcare crisis, whether a pandemic, hurricanes or terrorism.
Dowling said the first critical step is preparation — not just an emergency plan, but having the right people in key roles like medical and nursing leadership, procurement, logistics, and transportation.
He said in some ways Northwell was better prepared for COVID-19 because it integrated all of the facilities and functions of the organization, which paid off handsomely with what he calls “load balancing” of patients.
“If you have one hospital or one facility that gets overwhelmed and it cannot accommodate the volume, then instead of throwing more staff at that situation when there isn’t enough physical capacity to deal with it, you take the patients and you moved on to another facility,” Dowling said. “So we did that continuously. We actually moved over 700 patients from Queens and from our Queens hospitals to other hospitals as far north as Mt. Kisco in Westchester or as far east as Peconic in Suffolk County. And we did it because and we were able to do it more easily because we had our own transport network. No, not one of our hospitals got overwhelmed completely.”
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Another key lesson was how to best redeploy and train staff from their closed outpatient facilities. While Northwell received workers from as far as Rochester and Utah, most came from within.
“We redeployed almost 3,000 staff from different places into the front lines of the hospitals during this. And it’s the physicians, the nurses, the respiratory therapist, the social workers, the environmental cleaning people,” Dowling said.
Dowling said he was in awe of his staff’s dedication during the pandemic. Northwell lost 20 workers. Front-line workers were rewarded for the risks they took with a $2,500 bonus and an extra seven paid days off.
One other major lesson stems from procurement of personal protective equipment.
“Our stockpile has to be much better staffed and the inventory has to be more current in the state stockpile and in the federal stockpile. And we have to have domestic manufacturing. We can never be dependent upon a foreign country again solely for the production of essential goods and services when you’re in a crisis like this,” Dowling said.
There were important clinical lessons also as doctor and nurses learned how to best treat COVID-19 patients. The clinical protocol evolved tremendously during the crisis, which likely saved many lives.
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