Leaning on its experience during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, World Trade Center attacks and Hurricane Katrina, the health system quickly convened a task force to anticipate every aspect of the challenge COVID-19 would present for the hospitals.
Even still, it soon became apparent that the pandemic brought with it impacts that no one saw coming.
“We’ve never encountered anything close to the magnitude of what staff saw,” said Michael Hinck, director of Public Affairs at JHMC. “We are extremely proud of our employees for how they handled it. To use the word heroes in an understatement.”
Hinck recalled the hospitals being inundated once before during the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009. He noted, however, that the previous epidemic put strain on emergency departments, whereas novel coronavirus patients have been much sicker and required higher rates of admission, exacerbating hospital resources.
Hinck said MediSys experienced peak admissions in mid-April, treating more than 500 COVID-19 patients at that time between the two hospitals, 150 of which required ventilators.
Both hospitals increased capacity in terms of space and staff by discontinuing nonessential services such as elective procedures, and converting operating rooms and recovery areas into ICU and inpatient units.
The health system also consolidated its Pediatric Department, using the pediatric unit at JHMC to treat coronavirus patients and moving all of the children to Flushing Hospital.
Additional ventilators were secured mostly through assistance from state and city Health Departments, in addition to those procured from private vendors.
Both hospitals, like many health care institutions at the epicenter of the pandemic, reported an outpouring of generosity from local businesses and individuals in the form of food, personal protective equipment and financial donations, which still continue to this day.
As hospital staff themselves began to fall ill with coronavirus, an influx of medical professionals working in conjunction with the International Medical Corps stepped in to assist.
In early May, the National Grid Foundation and the Queens Chamber of Commerce announced a $10,000 grant for JHMC to put toward expenses for out-of-state doctors, nurses, EMTs and other health care workers who volunteered at the hospital.
Addressing the toll the pandemic is taking on mental health in the city, MediSys Health Network’s Department of Psychiatry enhanced its role not only within the hospitals, but also in the Queens community.
The department was proactive in reaching out to employees, who were witness to a number of tragedies as they treated patients, implementing wellness sessions for staff.
Conference calls and one-on-one conversations were facilitated early on. Staff also reached out to discharged COVID patients to check in on their emotional state and assess for any post traumatic stress issues after being hospitalized.
They additionally contacted the families of patients who passed away in order to help them through the bereavement process.
Despite the strain presented by the pandemic, MediSys has enjoyed some major successes in the past few weeks: the network recently celebrated its 1,000th COVID-19 discharge; Flushing Hospital saw the stunning release of a patient after nine weeks in critical condition; and a mother and child were sent home from JHMC after the woman prematurely gave birth by emergency C-section while on a ventilator in the ICU.
These victories come at fitting time, as the sister hospitals see decreases in hospitalization, ventilation and death rates, and the health system begins to reopen its OBGYN, psychiatry and ambulatory/outpatient services.
Hinck says protective measures were put in place to make sure patients who were staying away from the hospitals out of a fear of contracting COVID-19 feel comfortable coming back in to manage chronic conditions.
“We want to restore confidence in the public now that we’ve seen the peak and we're on the other side of the curve,” he said. “To let them know that the hospital is a safe place to come back to should you need it.”