While working in health care has never been easy, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on an entirely new dimension to the challenges that clinicians face. Many of the daily concerns we once had now pale in comparison with the weight of this historic pandemic. Anxiety about the survival of our patients is compounded by our own physical and emotional exhaustion, concern for our loved ones, and fear for our own safety while on the front lines. Through this seemingly insurmountable array of challenges, survival mode kicks in. We come into the hospital every day, put on our mask and gowns, and focus on providing the care we’ve been trained for. That’s what we do best – keeping on.
However, the sheer volume of patients grows by the day, including those who are critically ill and ventilated. With hundreds of deaths every day in New York City, and ICUs filled beyond three times capacity, our frontline clinicians are overstretched, exhausted, and in need of additional help. Emergency codes are called overhead at staggering frequencies. Our colleagues on the front lines are unfortunately becoming sick themselves, and those who are healthy are working extra shifts, at a pace they can only keep up for so long.
The heartbreaking reality of this pandemic is that our connection with our patients and families is fading amid the chaos. Many infection prevention policies prohibit families from physically visiting the hospitals. The scariest parts of a hospitalization – gasping for air, before intubation, and the final moments before death – are tragically occurring alone. The support we are able to give occurs behind masks and fogged goggles. There’s not a clinician I know who doesn’t want better for patients and families – and we can mobilize to do so.
At NYC Health + Hospitals, the largest public health system in the United States, and a hot zone of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve taken major steps to mitigate this tragedy. Our palliative care clinicians have stepped up to help reconnect the patients with their families. We secured hundreds of tablets to enable video calls, and improved inpatient work flows to facilitate updates to families. We bolstered support from our palliative care clinicians to our ICU teams and are expanding capacity to initiate goals of care conversations earlier, through automatic triggers and proactive discussions with our hospitalist teams. Last but certainly not least, we are calling out across the country for our willing colleagues who can volunteer their time remotely via telehealth to support our patients, families, and staff here in NYC Health + Hospitals.
We have been encouraged by the resolve and commitment of our friends and colleagues from all corners of the country. NYC Health + Hospitals is receiving many brave volunteers who are rising to the call and assisting in whatever way they can. If you are proficient in goals-of-care conversations and/or trained in palliative care and willing, please sign up here to volunteer remotely via telemedicine. We are still in the beginning of this war; this struggle will continue for months even after public eye has turned away. Our patients and frontline staff need your help.
Thank you and stay safe.
Dr. Cho is chief value officer at NYC Health + Hospitals, and clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University. He is a member of the Hospitalist’s editorial advisory board. Ms. Israilov is the inaugural Quality and Safety Student Scholar at NYC Health + Hospitals. She is an MD candidate at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.