What could we, long retired septuagenarian physicians, have to offer during this devastating Covid-19 pandemic? We did not know, but between the tears and breathlessness we experienced while watching televised and on line views of health personnel working constantly to take care of thousands of infected people, we knew we wanted to do something.
We received applications to volunteer from Governor Cuomo; completed them and waited. Neither of us could be involved in direct patient care because we no longer had the skill set needed and our ages put us in a high risk group. After a couple of weeks we finally received the go ahead from the NYDOH. We were to report to the Command Center of the giant MASH unit that is the Javits Center (NYJMS) and work behind the scenes.
The 1,000 bed Field Hospital had military medical staff to care for between 400-500 people. The Command Center, the locus of personnel who organized patient transfers, operations, phone calls, informatics, meal service and morale building, housed about 300 – 400 people. Our DOH unit, the Health Evacuation Co-ordination Center, worked with the military to smooth operations and fill in gaps such as social workers, psychologists, software development, and patient triage.
Initially we worked with two other physicians coordinating with doctors at local hospitals about their patients’ transfers to be sure that they were appropriate for the care available at NYJMS. The need for that job lasted about 5 days because of the efficiency of the military field docs who screened the patients’ charts on site.
We found another niche. We began receiving the messages from people who had been trying to get information about their hospitalized family members without much luck. We would speak to the nurses or doctors in the hospital and return the family members’ calls. Never before have either of us received more thanks, blessings, prayers and good wishes from absolute strangers. Something as simple as saying a “patient required less supplemental oxygen” or could “walk independently” was worth the world to some of these people. We learned a lot about the diversity of people who have been affected during this plague. Among the group were visitors and immigrants from South East Asia, India, Bangladesh, Central and South America, and the Middle East. Also included were those who were homeless or institutionalized, as well as those who had no one to care for them once they were discharged.
We feel happy and privileged to have been a small part of the effort to expand the capacity of the health systems of New York City and the State of New York.
Liz is a retired Board Certified Internist who worked in a Primary Care Practice. Currently, Liz sits on the Admissions Committee for the Jacobs Medical School, is Volunteer faculty for the Medical School ethics course, and is on the Board of Directors for League of Women Voters of Buffalo/Niagara.
Lito is a retired Board Certified Internist with specialization in Addiction Medicine and HIV Aids treatment. Currently, Lito is on the Public Health and Health Planning Council for New York State, a Board Member of Weinberg Campus, and Volunteer faculty for the Medical School ethics course.
Liz and Lito have been active members of Congregation Havurah for almost 30 years and look forward to traveling when the pandemic is over.