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Modern Healthcare - 2021-05-03

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Helping New York providers was ‘one of the best things I have done in my life’

SUPPORTING STAFF

Dr. Dixie Harris struck up a conversation with the driver who was taking her to her first shift at Northwell Health’s Southside Hospital on Long Island. He told her about his friend and fellow driver, a 40-year-old father of two young children, who died from COVID-19. It was a sobering reminder of why Harris, a pulmonologist specializing in critical care at Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare, and 100 of her coworkers traveled to New York last April to help the overstretched staff. After more than two weeks, Harris and her peers returned to Utah with an intimate understanding of the virus and a renewed purpose, she said. “Having the opportunity to do something of that magnitude was probably one of the best things I have done in my life,” Harris said. “When you stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone, it is a phenomenal experience.” Going to another health system across the country and hitting the ground running boosted the confidence of Harris and the team. They grew closer, constantly checking in on WhatsApp and meeting up for meals when they could. Harris gained an appreciation for supply stockers who made sure staff had enough gloves and procedure packets. There are “people in the background who become the most important part of the team,” she said. They were armed with best practices when they returned, guiding their colleagues in Utah, Nevada and Idaho through the most effective treatments and how to best manage patients on ventilators. They also served as each other’s support, debriefing and sharing stories as they reflected on their deployment, Harris said. “Telling others what we heard and saw was incredibly impactful,” Harris said, adding that she is on a COVID-19 steering committee with the Veterans Affairs Department and University of Utah and is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on guidelines about “long-COVID.” For the workers at Northwell and New York-Presbyterian, the Intermountain team gave them a much-needed reprieve, even if it was only for a moment. “I thank you for the fact that I can put my head down now tonight and know that I have space and time tomorrow to do some really simple things that have gone by the wayside and mean so much—get sleep, cook a healthy meal, call my parents and have a full conversation, play with my baby, and get outside. It’s such a gift that you are giving and I thank you sincerely,” Dr. Erica Olsen, an emergency medicine physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Columbia, wrote to the Intermountain team. Harris and her coworkers are hopeful that they can leverage their experience to continue to suppress the virus. They’re buoyed by declining numbers but recognize that the coronavirus is not going away overnight; up to 30% of non-hospitalized COVID patients have chronic symptoms including fatigue and shortness of breath, Harris said. Harris and her fellow providers have been asocial, isolating to keep the virus away from their family and friends. Seeing her family, safely, will be the biggest comfort, Harris said. “The ability to do that and know I can do it without endangering them will be such a relief,” she said. ◼

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