National Doctors’ Day took on extra meaning last Thursday at NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, considered the “epicenter of the epicenter” during the height of the Covid crisis.
Dr. Suzanne Bentley, co-director of the Helping Healers Heal program at the hospital, said partners and loved ones were concerned during the trying times.
“Even the in-laws that didn’t like you that much were terrified,” she said.
But Bentley said the staff never lost hope and that the hospital became a home away from home for them.
“We were all pushed to the breaking point but we did not break,” she said. “We showed up. We showed up for each other, for our patients and for our community. We were scared, we were tired and we often felt hopeless from the mounting uncertainty but we showed up and we came together.”
More than 30,000 New Yorkers have succumbed to Covid, including 53 Health + Hospitals employees.
“We all saw death in a way that as doctors we never anticipated in terms of volume,” said NYC Health + Hospitals CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz.
Katz spoke of how the brave staff “walked into rooms and knowing they would be putting themselves at risk. They intubated patients knowing that the risks are particularly high.”
Dr. Frank Proscia, president of Doctors Council Service Employees International Union, said the group created a hotline in the early days of the crisis so members could call, text or email.
“We’ve never experienced anything like this” in the half-century of the union’s existence, Proscia said.
He said doctors would call saying they contacted loved ones, telling them they would be away for weeks or months so as not to infect them.
“This was a pretense because they knew that they may very well succumb to the virus,” Proscia said.
Several elected officials, including state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing), spoke at the event.
“I think what’s unique about Elmhurst Hospital is that everybody comes here,” she said. “You don’t care what they look like, the language they speak, where they came from, whether they have papers or not. Everybody comes here.”
NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst CEO Helen Arteaga Landaverde told the Chronicle that the medical center’s capacity is back to its pre-Covid volume and the patient load is being managed “better and faster.”
She said the number of patients changes each day but “the important thing is that we’re able to manage the flow and there’s space for everybody.”
Asked if she was concerned about variants, Landaverde said vaccinations are key.
“The more we get vaccinated the less time the variant has to mutate because the mutation occurs when someone has the active virus,” she said.
Proscia said there is a way people can celebrate frontline workers.
“We call on everyone to honor doctors by continuing to wear masks, wash your hands, social distance and vaccinate,” he said.