In early April, staff at Intermountain Healthcare in Utah were told that the 24-hospital system would be sending a delegation to New York to treat COVID-19 patients.
Employees would have about two days to volunteer and would need their manager's approval.
Intermountain ended up sending 100 employees—nurses, doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and respiratory therapists—to work at Northwell Health and New York-Presbyterian hospitals.
Dr. Jarid Gray said his wife knew he'd sign up even before he told her. Gray, a 46-year-old physician working at 48-bed Cedar City Hospital in southern Utah, said he felt compelled to take some pressure off the hospital personnel in New York.
"As physicians and nurses, we all know what it's like to be overwhelmed by our jobs at times," Gray said. "These folks that have been doing it out here had been in that position for weeks on end. I knew just how taxed these guys were, and first and foremost I wanted to help them. Second, (I wanted) to obviously help the patients involved."
The partnership between Intermountain and the metropolitan area's hospitals has benefits for the Utah system too. Although Utah had only about 4,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of April 29, the group of 100 clinicians will bring back experience on how to treat patients who have the virus.
"It's one thing to read about any disease in a book and in studies and journals. It's another thing to experience it," Gray said. "I thought that experience would be valuable for our community and system."
Gray has been primarily working on the medical floors at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, part of the Northwell system, treating patients with COVID-19 who are too sick to leave the hospital but not in critical care. He spent several days observing in the intensive-care unit to learn more about caring for critical patients.
'A tremendous asset'
Dr. Dixie Harris, a pulmonologist, was deployed to Northwell's Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, Long Island. She has worked a mix of day and night shifts to relieve some of the ICU doctors.
"We're like a pressure-relief valve and enable doctors to get some rest," said Harris, who is in her 50s.
Typically, she would go in for a night shift at 6:15 to start putting on protective equipment, then finish her shift around 7 a.m. After handing off patients to other doctors and getting back into her street clothes, she would arrive back at her hotel around 8:30.
"When I walked in on the 14th and 15th (of April), they had just peaked and were fully running every ICU," she said.
Southside Hospital, Northwell's tertiary facility in Suffolk County, went from 36 ICU beds to close to 140 at peak patient volume.
Both Gray and Harris were preparing to return to Utah late last week after two weeks in New York.
"The key to managing this disease that we don't have a specific known treatment for yet is intense and expert clinical bedside care," said Dr. Jay Enden, Southside's chief medical officer. "It's among the most intensive critical-care demands. For folks to step right in to help with that is a tremendous asset for both our facility and the patients."
"When they go back home," Enden added, "their state will be in a better position."
"How a Utah health system helped relieve New York hospital workers" originally appeared in Crain's New York Business.