Northwell CEO Speaks Out About COVID-19’s Impact

Northwell CEO shares experiences: “The coronavirus doesn’t care who you vote for”

Michael J. Dowling, President and CEO of Northwell Health of New York City, didn’t mince words in a recent editorial on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am not exaggerating when I tell people that my organization has been through a war.” said Dowling. “What other metaphor even comes close?”

Northwell has treated more than 50,000 COVID-19 patients, at least 30 percent of whom were inpatients – believed to be more than any other single health system in the United States. For weeks now, it’s appeared the worst is over in the greater NYC region, but recent outbreaks around the country have shown Dowling it’s foolish to become complacent.

“We have been in a downward trend, with fewer new cases and a dramatic reduction in hospitalizations,” he observed. “We are in recovery while ever cognizant of the possibility of a resurgence, especially as we observe the opposite trends in much of the rest of the country.”

But Dowling’s unique experience gave him a perspective he is willing to share with other leaders through several general points of guidance, shared via Becker’s Hospital Review:

  1. Masks work. If you work in healthcare, you must wear a mask — when working and when not. It’s that simple. Set an example for your organization, family and friends and the community. People that do not wear masks are essentially saying they are not concerned about others. 
  2. Take exceptional care of your staff. Much of the public’s focus and yours will be on adding beds, increasing ICU capacity and acquiring PPE. The safety and morale of your staff, however, is by far the most important. Be visible, communicate constantly, and provide all the necessary physical and psychological supports. They are the troops who do the work. 
  3. Get ready for a financial hit. Northwell is estimating a multi-billion revenue loss by 2021. Did I dwell on this as a priority during the crisis? No. In a crisis like this, you throw the budget out the window and do what is good for your community and your people. Deal with it when the surge subsides — which is what we are now doing and which will continue for the next few years. 
  4. Keep positive. We are so fortunate to be in healthcare — we are the essential asset and the safety net when situations like these occur. We save lives and we make a difference. We are in a position of great responsibility. While the financial impact on us is great, think of those other businesses who may never again reopen and families whose lives have been forever changed. Some have lost everything. In that context, we are fortunate. Perspective matters.
  5. It does not end with a vaccine. A vaccine, when it becomes available, will resolve part of the problem caused by the pandemic. It helps solve the medical issue, but not the overall economic and social dislocation. That will be a work in progress for the next five to 10 years, so plan on difficult years ahead. We all face circumstances we can’t control. It’s how we react to them that defines our character. 
  6. Keep learning. We don’t yet know the long-lasting effects of COVID-19 on its survivors. To have been hospitalized and discharged is a feat. These were some of the brightest moments we experienced at Northwell, celebrating more than 15,000 patients who returned to their families after recovering in our hospitals and ICUs. But the fight doesn’t end there. Health systems will need to spend time and resources on unresolved healthcare issues that may result from being a COVID-19 patient. The demand on our organizations is still unclear, as there is still too much we do not know. But as we continue to learn, our communities and patients will look to us for answers. 
  7. Resist division: Unify. The initial surge of this virus brought much distress and despair, but the sense of unity we experienced in responding is perhaps the only thing I wish I could have bottled. Everybody came together. It must carry on. COVID-19 unified us in ways we had not seen in a long time, joining us in a fight against a common enemy regardless of political persuasion, religion or ethnicity. As politicized as the country remains, we have an opportunity on the good that has come out of the pandemic. We should not be arguing, for example, about wearing a face mask. It is not a political statement, it is a necessity. As leaders, our ability to resist divisive rhetoric and meanness is being put to the test every single day. Remain vigilant. Rise above. The coronavirus doesn’t care who you vote for. 

SOURCE: Becker’s Hospital Review

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