The Cayuga Health System sent two buses with 60 doctors, nurses and staff to New York Presbyterian Hospital on April 8 at 8:30 a.m., in response to a nationwide plea from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) for healthcare workers to come to New York City.
The Ithaca Police and Fire Departments and a NASCAR pace car from Watkins Glen International led the procession, as hundreds of community residents lined the parade route to cheer on the departing healthcare workers, even though Cuomo recently extended a statewide stay-at-home order until April 29.
For residents who have been cooped up in their homes since a government-mandated shelter-in-place was issued on March 20, the celebration was a welcome respite. Many held up encouraging handmade signs and banged pots and pans together.
Before the procession began, politicians and community leaders, including Dr. Marty Stallone, CEO and president of Cayuga Medical Group, gave speeches in front of Cayuga Medical Center lauding the departing healthcare volunteers.
“In every crisis there are those who run not away from the struggle but towards it. We normally call those individuals heroes. Today we call them doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals,” Stallone said. “You’re an example of what it means to pursue a calling in medicine, nursing and healthcare.”
Stallone thanked attendees for “practicing generous social distancing and for wearing masks,” though many comments on the Cayuga Medical Center’s livestream of the event noted that the speakers and those in the crowds were standing less than six feet apart from each other.
President Martha E. Pollack also gave remarks remotely over Zoom, expressing gratitude for the healthcare workers for their contributions to New York-Presbyterian, which is affiliated with Weill Cornell Medicine.
“Your colleagues at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medicine will be so, so grateful to have you,” Pollack said on Zoom. “I say this with certainty because I speak to them almost daily to say that they are thrilled, just thrilled that you are coming to help.”
Cornell donated two Campus-to-Campus buses to transport the healthcare workers to the city.
According to Stallone, Cayuga Medical Center is the first example of an upstate community hospital contributing its workforce to a state and national effort. He anticipates this trailblazing effort will become common practice across the country.
“We have shared this model with the Hospital Association of New York and there will be other hospitals to follow us in our footsteps to help in this endeavor,” Stallone said.
The clinicians are expected to be based in New York City for at least 30 days. Stallone offered reassurance to the volunteer clinicians that they and their families will be cared for during this time.
“You’re not alone. Know that your brothers and sisters at Cayuga are thinking about you, praying for you and rooting for you,” he continued. “We have a particular debt of gratitude to your family and we commit to supporting them in whatever way they need. This will be a priority for us.”
Assemblymember Barbara Lifton (D-N.Y.) — who represents Tompkins County — also assured workers they will have proper personal protective equipment during their deployment. Healthcare workers were sent some supplies for their own use and to help out with equipment shortages.
“I know personally from helping work on this that there are many people that have been working overtime to make sure their hospitals and nursing homes have all the protective gear they need,” she said.
Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) assured the community that local leaders will be united in their efforts to coordinate responses against the ongoing pandemic.
“[The speakers today] have been talking for about a month and a half daily about the issues that we are facing with COVID-19,” Reed said. “But I also tell you we talked not as adversaries in the political arena, but we talked as Americans. When America is challenged, we come together as Americans and we support each other and we do not fail.”
For New York State Sen. Tom O’Mara (R-N.Y.), community strength has always been a part of the state’s identity.
“We’ve always known that New Yorkers have a strong fortitude,” O’Mara said. “This really proves it today. We will prevail and we will succeed because we are New York strong.”
Stallone hoped that volunteer clinicians will return to Ithaca with skills and insights that will equip them to better handle the crisis months to come.
“COVID-19 is a challenging disease. You’ll come back as the providers foremost expert in diagnosing and treating it,” Stallone said. “You’ll ensure that we employ the latest and best practices here in Ithaca if and when that care is needed to any great extent, though we pray it is not.”