By Michael Dowling
With the rapid increase in novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in New York over the past month, Northwell Health remains focused on responding to the needs of the communities we serve. Additionally, we continue to believe “information is healthy, fear is not,” and we can all play a role in preventing further spread of this virus by encouraging people to remain calm and take practical steps to protect themselves. Please be sure you continue to visit our Northwell COVID-19 website, which contains many resources to help you, and the community at large, stay up to date.
Northwell’s response to the pandemic has been the focus of extensive news coverage, including a March 29th story by Scott Pelley on CBS’ 60 Minutes. I’m so proud of Northwell’s front-line caregivers on their courageous response to the COVID-19 crisis. The episode looked at New York as it has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic and how dedicated, tireless health care workers are responding to the call, despite risks to their own health—and those of their families. It’s an extraordinary story and I encourage you to watch it.
While we have sufficient capacity now within our hospitals to deal with the surge in patient volume, we are going to be pushed to the limits in the coming weeks. Although no one is entirely sure what the extent of the surge is going to be and how long it’s going to last, we have heeded Governor Cuomo’s executive order to expand current hospital bed capacity by more than 50 percent. In fact, we believe we can find space for more than 2,400 additional beds in the 19 hospitals we own and operate throughout the metropolitan area—that represents a 62 percent increase over our current hospital bed capacity. We’re identifying space within traditional areas of the hospital by adding beds within existing rooms, but we’re also planning to put beds in our lobbies, conference rooms, cafeterias and other areas where we can find space. Being that only emergency surgeries are being performed now in our hospitals, we’re also putting beds into ORs, catheterization labs and other procedure rooms. All options are on the table.
The biggest challenge in responding to this crisis is finding the staff to care for all of the additional patients we could be bringing in. We have 72,000 employees, including 17,000 nurses, 4,500 employed physicians and thousands of other caregivers, but we’re going to need all hands on deck to meet this surge. We have contracted with staffing agencies to bring in hundreds of additional nurses, we’re recruiting retired nurses and doctors, and also reaching out to all of our per-diem physicians and nurses—and any others who are credentialed to practice within our health system.
We have spread our nets far and wide to bring in as much help as possible.
We have no doubt that the weeks and months ahead are going to pose major challenges for our staff and the communities we serve, but I know we’re going to win this battle because of the unbelievable commitment, dedication and courage of the health care workers on the front lines of this pandemic. They are remarkable individuals. When all of this is behind us, New York’s health care warriors will be recognized as the true heroes who saved New York—and we should honor them with a ticker-tape parade down Broadway. As I said in the 60 Minutes interview, “The health care system is resilient. We will handle this. And it’s important for people to understand this. You don’t quit. You don’t retreat. You don’t put up the white flag. You are going to win.”