With nearly 5 percent of the world’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases reported in New York City as of Sunday, the rapid growth of the outbreak leaves tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of the city’s hospitals and medical professionals.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly stressed the importance of increasing bed capacity in fighting novel coronavirus, ordering hospitals in the state to increase that capacity by at least 50 percent in anticipation of a COVID-19 patient influx.
As of last week, LIJ Forest Hills - a small community hospital - was able to double both the size of its ICU and the number of ventilators on site by leveraging resources from its umbrella system, Northwell Health.
Staff have also been administering almost 100 COVID-19 tests to patients showing potential symptoms of the virus, according to hospital officials.
“We’re taking care of patients in an effort to flatten the curve,” said Dr. Miriam Smith, chief of Infectious Disease at LIJ Forest Hills. “And we are doing everything we can to continue to serve the community.”
Smith is working closely with colleague Dr. Teresa Amato, director of Emergency Medicine, in managing the varying cases of coronavirus coming into LIJ Forest Hills, which range from mild to critical.
They are urging the public to abide by CDC guidelines on containing the outbreak, such as continuously washing your hands, staying home as much as possible, avoiding touching your face, and maintaining a six-foot distance between people.
The hospital is reaching out to local nursing homes and older adults in the neighborhood, who make up what experts believe is the population most vulnerable to the virus.
These residents are being encouraged to stay indoors at all costs, have necessities delivered, and communicate virtually even with loved ones who may be asymptomatic carriers.
For Amato, who has seen a number of viral outbreaks in her time at LIJ Forest Hills, including SARS, Ebola and Zika, the number one message for New Yorkers is not to panic.
She likened the anxiety many are experiencing to that felt during the peak of the AIDS epidemic. Amato was a nurse at the time, and recalls the fear induced by lack of information on how the virus was transmitted and how to treat it.
From times like those, Amato says, medical professionals have learned a lot on how to handle outbreaks effectively.
“For us as healthcare professionals, when you go into emergency medicine you know you will experience an outbreak at some point in your career,” said Amato. “We are on the front lines, and we took an oath to put our patients first and be there for them, as well as the community.”
She also explained that anyone seeking guidance or information can visit Northwell’s digital resource center for coronavirus at northwell.edu/coronavirus-covid-19.
Northwell Health announced last week that it would delay payments for at least 60 days, with zero percent interest, for patients who receive medical services and have been financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Those seeking financial assistance with Northwell Health hospital payments, or who need to delay payments due to lost wages and other financial hardship caused by COVID-19, can call (888) 214-4066.
The largest health care system in New York, Northwell has consistently worked with patients when it comes to payment, offering financial assistance programs to residents earning up to 500 percent of federal poverty guidelines, a figure well beyond the 300 percent threshold mandated by state regulations.
This latest initiative is an extension of those efforts, taking a step to help alleviate the economic pressure and stress so many are experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
“We are first and foremost an organization committed to the health and well-being of the communities we serve,” said Northwell Executive vice president and chief business strategy officer Richard Miller. “We live and work here too, and are cognizant of the impact the virus is having on people’s physical, mental and financial health.
“All of these things are connected,” he continued. “The important thing to remember is that nobody should delay needed medical services because of their ability to pay.”