Jun 20, 2022 - Health

Sneak peek: Inside one New York hospital's fight against COVID-19

Cover: Flatiron Books

Cover: Flatiron Books

The legendary Marie Brenner tells me it's "a tonic at this frightening moment in our history":

  • In "The Desperate Hours: One Hospital's Fight to Save a City on the Pandemic's Front Lines" (out tomorrow), Brenner draws on 200+ interviews for a gripping account of NewYork-Presbyterian's heroics — with too little federal help — as COVID smothered the city.

Why it matters: "COVID would reveal everything — the pressure that made some crumble but also the valor that meant confronting the fragility of the big-business hospital system, with its marble halls and gleaming towers paid for by New York titans," Brenner writes. Brenner writes that Dr. Steven Corwin, the hospital system's president and CEO, had said somberly as he addressed thousands of NewYork-Presbyterian employees at an all-hospital briefing in March 2020:

  • "We are in this together — the cavalry isn’t coming."

"But Corwin was wrong," Brenner writes. "The cavalry rushed in from every department in the hospital":

Accountants worked as transporters, wheeling the dying and the dead. At the height of the surge, Corwin got authorization to pay for three thousand hotel rooms around the city, food for the extended families of all employees who needed help, day care, and transportation — a billion-dollar outlay. In one call, he snapped, "I don’t give a damn what it costs." He insisted on an unlimited line of credit to fund the hiring of doctors and nurses and former Air Force pararescue medics and to make sure that the hospital had a field hospital and oxygen farms.

"I found 200 N95s in a storage cabinet," a Goldman Sachs partner texted Corwin. We will take them, the CEO replied, Brenner continues:

Cosmetics companies and gourmet markets delivered crates of skin creams and delicacies for everyone working on the front lines. Surgeons, urologists, medical students, cardiologists, retired NewYork-Presbyterian internists fanned out through the corridors of the system’s ten hospitals, emptying trash cans and relearning how to titrate medicines in the ICU — a skill many of the older doctors had not used since medical school.

Brenner's cast of characters includes a first-year internal medicine resident ... a security guard ... a housekeeper ... a morgue attendant ... and the hospital system's director of supply chain.

  • 🎧 Podcast: NewYork-Presbyterian CEO Steven Corwin tells Axios' Dan Primack about the COVID "tsunami."
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