Published in the New England Journal of Medicine’s Catalyst, Northwell CEO Michael Dowling lays out the "Keeping Our Team Members Safe" initiative deployed during the pandemic
At the height of the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) crisis in New York State, Northwell Health found itself at the epicenter of the global pandemic. To prioritize the well-being of its 74,000 employees and their families, Northwell launched the "Keeping Our Team Members Safe" initiative. Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, along with The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research’s Northwell Health COVID-19 Research Consortium, published an article today outlining the lessons learned from the pandemic in The New England Journal of Medicine’s Catalyst.
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Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health poses with some of Northwell’s frontline heroes. (Credit: Northwell Health)
From equipment to staffing and testing, as the crisis ramped up, Northwell Health looked to address urgent needs. To prioritize the well-being of its employees, New York State’s largest health system enacted a series of programs to address five goal areas: physical safety, financial security, familial safety, psychosocial safety, overall safety and well-being.
"As soon as the pandemic began to grip the region, our health system leaders acted swiftly to ensure the safety of patients, staff and their families," Mr. Dowling said. "It was the collective, flexible and passionate commitment from our staff that led to innovative solutions and helped us persevere through this critical moment in time."
Northwell Health treated over 100,000 COVID-19 patients, including 16,000 hospitalized patients across its 23 hospitals and more than 800 outpatient facilities between March and Labor Day – more than any other health system in the nation. To meet the surge in patients during the pandemic, Northwell added 2,000 hospital beds, including 1,200 intensive care unit beds. One of the biggest challenges was sufficient staffing. As part of the "Keeping Our Team Members Safe" plan, Northwell asked team members to take on other roles within the health system and for the first time. The Hofstra Northwell School of Graduate Nursing & Physician Assistant Studies and Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell class of 2020 graduated early to join the frontline efforts.
A personal protective equipment (PPE) mandate was put in place for all team members in hospital and ambulatory locations, regardless of contact with patients. To reduce the risk of spread, Northwell directed nearly 10,000 employees to work from home in early March. If a team member was under quarantine after exposure to COVID-19, they were provided with full salary and benefits. Additionally, Northwell focused on increasing job security and implemented services, such as food provisions and free hotel accommodations to aid essential health care workers’ focus on patient care. Early in the pandemic, Northwell Labs offered free testing to team members with COVID-19 symptoms or who were possibly exposed. The health system eventually offered free antibody testing for all employees.
To address employees’ family well-being, Northwell provided educational materials to help children cope with the fears of the pandemic. The health system also expanded back-up child/elder care program to provide additional center-based and in-home care.
Mental health remains a top priority. Tranquility spaces for employees were established at hospitals and Team Lavender programs were expanded, which provided team members with timely emotional, spiritual and physical support. Through the Employee Assistance Program, team members and their families are offered free, confidential therapy.
Because of these efforts and more, a remote work survey found that 85 percent of employees felt that Northwell cared about their well-being during the pandemic. Moreover, 95 percent believed that Northwell transparently communicated information regarding COVID-19. The retention rate of employees improved by 18 percent between March and July 2020, compared to the same period one year earlier.
"COVID-19 devastated public health, mental wellness and financial foundations, but through this challenge, we identified ways to diminish the devastation for our employees," said Karina W. Davidson, PhD, MASc, professor and senior vice president at the Feinstein Institutes. "We are hopeful that by publishing the tactics deployed and lessons learned by Northwell Health, other institutions can use this as a blueprint to face crises yet to come."
Co-authors of the article published in NEJM are Michael J. Dowling, Maxine C. Carrington, MS, JD, Joseph Moscola, PA, MBA, and Dr. Davidson. They note in the article that they, "acknowledge and honor all our Northwell team members who consistently put themselves in harm’s way during the COVID-19 pandemic. We dedicate this article to them, as their sacrifices on the behalf of patients made it possible."
About the Feinstein Institutes
The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research is the research arm of Northwell Health, the largest health care provider and private employer in New York State. Home to 50 research labs, 3,000 clinical research studies and 5,000 researchers and staff, the Feinstein Institutes raises the standard of medical innovation through its five institutes of behavioral science, bioelectronic medicine, cancer, health innovations and outcomes, and molecular medicine. We make breakthroughs in genetics, oncology, brain research, mental health, autoimmunity, and are the global scientific leader in bioelectronic medicine – a new field of science that has the potential to revolutionize medicine. For more information about how we produce knowledge to cure disease, visit http://feinstein.northwell.edu and follow us on LinkedIn.
About Northwell Health
Northwell Health is New York State’s largest health care provider and private employer, with 23 hospitals, nearly 800 outpatient facilities and more than 14,200 affiliated physicians. We care for over two million people annually in the New York metro area and beyond, thanks to philanthropic support from our communities. Our 74,000 employees – 18,500 nurses and 4,500 employed doctors, including members of Northwell Health Physician Partners – are working to change health care for the better. We’re making breakthroughs in medicine at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research. We're training the next generation of medical professionals at the visionary Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and the Hofstra Northwell School of Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies. For information on our more than 100 medical specialties, visit Northwell.edu and follow us @NorthwellHealth on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
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