NYU Langone CMO: What the system learned from the COVID-19 pandemic

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Discussing emergency preparedness, staff wellness and health equity initiatives, Fritz Francois, MD, CMO of NYU Langone Health, spoke to American Hospital Association Board Chair Rod Hochman, MD, in the "Advancing Health" AHA podcast Oct. 7.

Dr. Francois told Dr. Hochman about the in-depth emergency planning New York City-based NYU Langone has been practicing for years. 

"Baked into the DNA of the organization is emergency preparedness. At least twice a year, we would do major table talks to think about how we would respond to certain emergencies," he said. The team would get together to discuss how they would mobilize in the case of different situations like cyberattacks, intruders and power outages. In a twist of fate, the hospital had a table talk planned for January 2020 to discuss the scenario of the emergence of a deadly pathogen. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, as the hospital looked toward caring for its first COVID-19 patients, it was shocked by the pace of the crisis developments. 

"Looking back, we didn't anticipate the speed with which things would change," said Dr. Francois. He shared that originally the hospital had dedicated 34 beds to COVID-19 care. By the middle of the crisis, however, every single floor had to be converted to COVID care. Dr Francois remembers thinking, "How quickly can we get up to speed?" He applauded the dedication and swiftness of his staff, some of whom managed to convert part of a post-anesthesia care unit in just four hours. 

Talking about the fatigue and stress of his staff, Dr. Francois commented that focusing on the improvements made in the past 18 months can help put the struggle in perspective. 

"We celebrate the wins when we reach certain milestones," he said. Staff spirits are lifted when they can see the fruits of their labor and patients communicate their gratitude. He also said that the hospital has expanded its mental health and wellness programs for the staff. Hospital leaders make an effort to listen to their employees, using their feedback to implement offerings and resources that would best serve them.

Dr. Francois also spoke about how the pandemic has shined a bright light on health inequities, given that Black and brown people were disproportionately affected by COVID-19. "We launched an institute of excellence in health equity,'' said Dr. Francois. They also investigated whether there were any disparities in patient outcomes to ensure that the standard of care was the same for all. They found no difference. Every department also sets equity goals so they can constantly ask how to improve.

He finished the discussion by quoting a Haitian Creole saying, "Beyond the first mountain there are other mountains," an apt metaphor for the last 18 months in the healthcare industry.


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