For years, the Mount Sinai Health System and National Jewish Health in Denver have been partnering on initiatives such as the Mount Sinai – National Jewish Health Respiratory Institute that have significantly improved outcomes among patients with pulmonary diseases. That partnership proved vital when New York City became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting in late March, 13 National Jewish Health physicians began arriving in shifts over a five-week period, joining the front lines of a health care crisis that threatened to overwhelm not only Mount Sinai’s capacity to serve patients but also that of all New York City hospitals.
“The number of patients who were very sick was so high that there was an acute need for additional physicians experienced in pulmonary and critical care throughout the city,” says Charles Powell, MD, Chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Director of the Mount Sinai – National Jewish Health Respiratory Institute. “We brought in physicians from across the country, including California, Wisconsin, and Texas. Given our previous collaborations with National Jewish Health, and their extensive expertise in this specialty, we were glad that they reached out to ask if they could be of help, as well.”
Under normal circumstances, credentialing and licensing of out-of-state physicians would take several months to complete. During the pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order that significantly helped expedite that process, which meant Mount Sinai was able to place National Jewish Health physicians at its affiliated hospitals in just two days.
“In some cases, we integrated them into patient care teams where there were gaps because our physicians had called out with COVID-19,” Dr. Powell says. “In other cases, we looked at opportunities to gain the maximum benefit of their specialized expertise. For example, we tasked two National Jewish Health physicians who have extensive experience in the management of patients in a long-term care setting following a critical care illness with helping us establish a new long-term acute care unit at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. That was a benefit that went beyond our immediate need.”
"Being at Mount Sinai at the height of the pandemic gave us a strong base of in-depth knowledge to handle the cases we saw in Denver.”
Gabriel Lockhart, MD
Overall, Dr. Powell was impressed by the dedication exemplified by National Jewish Health physicians during the crisis. “We had a couple of junior physicians who found the experience so invaluable that they came back for a second tour,” he says. “We had senior physicians who serve in leadership roles at National Jewish Health who were driven by a similar inclination to help in this time of need. They understood they could have an impact not just by supporting us but also by getting first-hand exposure and experience they could apply to address a pandemic that is having a significant impact on our country.”
Gabriel Lockhart, MD, was one of the junior physicians who opted to do two tours at Mount Sinai—the first as an attending physician in the intensive care unit at Mount Sinai West and the second triaging patients in the general wards at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.
“Mount Sinai really seemed to be ahead of the curve on everything from administering blood thinners and steroids to when to intubate compared to what we were seeing overseas,” Dr. Lockhart says. “Even though National Jewish Health was not overrun to the same degree, being at Mount Sinai at the height of the pandemic gave us a strong base of in-depth knowledge to handle the cases we saw in Denver.”
[For more of Dr. Lockhart's story, click here.]
Having weathered the first wave of the pandemic together, Dr. Powell says Mount Sinai and National Jewish Health are now focused on managing the long-term sequelae of lung disease among survivors and are planning new clinical and research collaborations to better understand both the mechanisms and impacts of COVID-19.
“This served as an affirmation of our reasons for establishing this partnership,” Dr. Powell says. “It not only demonstrates our mutual commitment to one another but also how we are able to achieve more benefits for our patients and our field, when we work together with a common vision and goals than by working in isolation.”
Charles Powell, MD
Director of the Mount Sinai – National Jewish Health Respiratory Institute