Intermountain Healthcare To NYC: Experiences From The Front Lines

May 8, 2020

A crisis response team of 50 Intermountain Healthcare workers was sent to New York to help some of the hardest-hit hospitals in the United States handle the coronavirus in April. They've returned from their two-week experience with hospitals overrun with the virus with a newfound respect for the virus and humanity's resilience.

“We landed in a New York that was eerily quiet," said Dr. RJ Bunnel. "The airport was deserted, the stores were shuttered and you know, places that are normally incredibly busy like Fifth Avenue was just deserted for miles.”

Bunnel, who was one of the healthcare workers sent to New York to help treat the coronavirus, said when he got to the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, they’d already treated 1,000 COVID-19 patients and seen hundreds of deaths.

“They had a hospital a service of inpatient doctors, like myself, that normally treat 200 people. And when we got there, they were still taking care of 590 patients," Bunnell said. "And there were ICUs that were created all over the hospital. They started with one, and then had to build six new ones to take care of all of these critically ill patients — a lot of whom will unfortunately not make it.”

ICU physician Dixie Harris said many of the ICUs she worked in were the same — even the Southside Hospital in Long Island, which is a community hospital serving an area similar to Millcreek in Utah. 

“One of the head nurses had a relative on this certain floor like say, sixth floor, and every time they called — and it was very common because patients were very sick — they would call a rapid response to the sixth floor, her heart would stop," Harris said "And it really drove it home. How horrific this disease is, and how cruel this disease can be. Now, many, many people — a high percentage — don't have to go to the hospital. But those who end up going to the hospital with this disease, it's very serious and can be fatal.”

Harris added there is much we’re still learning about the virus and how to effectively treat and prevent its spread. She said methods changed drastically in the two weeks they were in New York.  

All five of the Intermountain employees who shared their experiences said one of the main reasons New York had such a high-volume of cases was because the virus spread before any safety measures, like wearing masks and maintaining social distancing efforts, were established. 

One stipulation in the partnership between IHCNew York-Presbyterian Hospital and Northwell Health was that New York caregivers may be sent to help in Utah if the state needs assistance in case of a peak-surge in May or June, as some models predict.

The full briefing is available here.