Northwell Health Had to Buy Garden Hoses to Fix Ventilators: Book

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The 187-page book, which was just published, was co-written by Northwell Health executive director Michael Dowling and Northwell’s chief journalist/editor Charles Kenney. Photo Credit: northwell.edu

By Hadassa Kalatizadeh

A new book, written from the view of frontline medical providers, is revealing details about the novel Coronavirus’s devastating impact on New York.  During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, staffers at New York’s largest hospital network had to at one point shop at hardware stores purchasing standard garden hoses to make the ventilators they had received from the state work, the new book divulges.  The 187-page book, which was just published, was co-written by Northwell Health executive director Michael Dowling and Northwell’s chief journalist/editor Charles Kenney.  As reported by the NY Post, the book, entitled Leading Through a Pandemic, is set to be the first major book written first hand by medical professionals about the pandemic.

“We should never again have less than a robust stockpile of ventilators and other essential equipment… Overreliance on China to manufacture vital supplies is a perilous gamble,” Dowling writes in the book.  The experience has led Northwell Health to try to purchase its own medical supply company so that it will no longer be dependent on China or other governments for vital necessities including ventilators, scrubs and mask, Dowling added.

Northwell’s network of 23 hospitals treated roughly 70,000 COVID-19 patients, which is more than any other hospital network in the United States.  The shortages of basic medical equipment made their job so much more difficult and dangerous than it needed to be.  “Even when we did receive much-needed ventilators from New York State, many arrived without parts needed to make them functional,” the executives wrote.  “At one point our staff members went to hardware stores to purchase garden hoses which they cut up and attached so vents would work.”

As per the Post, the book also relates that Northwell’s staffers also used 3D-printed parts to construct improvised breathing machines and nasal swabs to test patients for Coronavirus.  Northwell officials called it a dire national security issue to rely so heavily on foreign companies for medical equipment and pharmaceutical drugs.  “The United States Army didn’t outsource its bullet making to China,” said Dr. Kevin Tracey, CEO of Northwell’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.

The book offers 13 recommendations on how to be better prepared for a future emergency — one being that hospitals should not overly-rely on foreign countries for supplies.  “We’re in talks with a couple of (private manufacturing) companies. You can’t depend on people overseas for supplies when you are in the middle of a war,” Dowling said Sunday.  Since May, Northwell has reportedly been looking into buying a private manufacturing company. Another suggestion cited was that the government should abolish or revise existing rules to grant more flexibility and control to the healthcare workers.  Gov. Cuomo had likewise, eventually waived many of the regulations, in order to exempt doctors and hospitals from medical malpractice suits and enabling them to convert space into COVID-treatment units.

The book also discussed the heroism and grief displayed by the front lines medical workers.  Northwell said that even though it suffered $1.2 billion in lost revenue and added costs during the crisis, it decided to pay front-line workers bonuses for their heroism and self-sacrifice, adding that it will tend to working on its finances later on.  “Those on the front lines of the crisis will likely be reckoning with the impact of their experiences, and of the many heartbreaking losses for a long time to come,” the book states.

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