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COVID-19 Has Brought Rapid Change To A Brooklyn Hospital


The worst is yet to come. So said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a press briefing today in New York City. That city has by far the most reported cases of coronavirus in the country - more than 36,000. Gwynne Hogan from member station WNYC visited a hospital in Brooklyn that is on the frontlines of the crisis.

GWYNNE HOGAN, BYLINE: Inside Maimonides Medical Center, nurses and doctors rush from patient to patient, who are in separate rooms behind sliding glass doors.

JOHN MARSHALL: So this is ICU. Actually, this is actually an ICU we stood up just Sunday night.

HOGAN: Dr. John Marshall is the chair of emergency medicine. He shows me how to properly put on a surgical mask.

MARSHALL: Right. So it kind of form-fits your face. Then it should fit down below, too. And then when you suck in, you see how it collapses in? Right. That's a sign that it's working right now.

HOGAN: They've treated hundreds of patients over the course of the pandemic so far.

MARSHALL: Notice we've got - all the patients are kind of in isolated areas. We have a lot of the equipment outside of the room.

HOGAN: As he's speaking, a nurse calls out for help.

UNIDENTIFIED NURSE: (Unintelligible).

MARSHALL: Press 13 (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED NURSE: (Unintelligible).

MARSHALL: Thank you. The patients are obviously very sick. It's an entirely different kind of care, so we're learning how to care for these patients as we go.

HOGAN: Marshall says the hospital is trying to more than double its capacity to 1,400 beds. They're aiming for around 300 intensive care beds - up from about 50 they had before all of this started. They have enough ventilators for now.

MARSHALL: It's - so we have been sourcing additional ventilators.

HOGAN: He won't give specifics. He does say if they had the same number they had a month ago, they would have run out by now. Fifty were donated. Fifty more are on the way. But critically ill patients with COVID-19 spend two to three weeks on these machines - much longer than many other illnesses. So at Maimonides...

MARSHALL: What we're doing with a lot of patients up here is actually not putting them on ventilators and putting them on a high-flow oxygen machine and trying to keep them off the ventilator as long as we can and trying to get the lung to heal.

HOGAN: One patient calls out to the ICU's head doctor through the glass. He calls back.

MARSHALL: How you feeling?

HOGAN: The patient has been completely taken off oxygen and is able to breathe on his own for the first time in days. The ICU doctor is beaming from behind his mask.

RICH: How do you like that?

MARSHALL: You look good, Rich (ph).

HOGAN: There are about a dozen patients in this small ICU, mostly sleeping or sedated, and it's relatively calm. But there are so many of these wards throughout the hospital and dozens more patients waiting to be admitted down below in the emergency room. A worker in scrubs comes up to the ICU to ask Dr. Marshall where he should start sending them.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Casey's (ph) going off. We're trying to figure out where her patient's going to go. And...

MARSHALL: How you doing? I'm going to come talk to you in a while.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There's six or seven atoms (ph). Three more...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...I'm trying to bring over.

MARSHALL: I'll call her back in a few minutes.

HOGAN: It's a constant, rapid-fire shuffle - turning a laboratory into a COVID ward, a rehab gym into a COVID ward. Most spaces in the hospital are being turned into COVID wards. Then there are the large tents out front that are being fitted with electricity and climate control in case it gets to that. There's also a refrigerated truck outside if the hospital runs out of space in its morgue.

MARSHALL: You want to head down towards the emergency room?

HOGAN: Down some stairs through a maze of corridors...

MARSHALL: This side of the emergency department was normally our critical care side. It became our hot zone last week for the COVID patients, although as the week has progressed, pretty much everything has become the hot zone at this point.

HOGAN: It's overwhelming - bed to bed to bed, dozens of patients of all agents in hospital gowns all in rows, one in a chair, everyone wearing masks.

MARSHALL: On this side of the emergency department, we have somewhere between 30 and 40 patients in progress right now.

HOGAN: A woman behind him is gasping for air.

MARSHALL: You guys OK? You need anything?

HOGAN: Others are coughing. Henry Halpert approaches Dr. Marshall and grabs his hand.

HENRY HALPERT: Dr. Marshall, who's the head of the...

MARSHALL: I'm social distancing.

HALPERT: Yeah, we're social distancing.

HOGAN: Halpert runs a volunteer EMS service that caters to the area's Orthodox Jewish community.

HALPERT: It's been a war zone.

HOGAN: And it's just starting. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the pandemic won't reach its peak for several more weeks. At Maimonides, Dr. Marshall says the question on everyone's mind - will there be enough protective gear, equipment, physical space and healthy staff members to care for everyone who needs it as best they can?

MARSHALL: That's the concern that every nurse, every doctor, every tech, every person has downstairs is - you know, is - am I going to be able to do what I spent my whole life training to do when it matters the most? And this is - you know, in the 30 years of my medical career, this is the time it's mattered the most.

HOGAN: His time is precious, and Dr. Marshall rushes off to care for his patients.

For NPR News, I'm Gwynne Hogan in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gwynne Hogan
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