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SHSP Dean's Distinguished Leaders Lecture Series Features WMCHealth CEO

Michael D. Israel gave an insightful presentation into how WMCHealth has managed operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

January 17, 2022
Michael D. Israel and Robert W. Amler, M.D., M.B.A.

The hybrid event welcomed 100 online viewers as well as attendees in person. Robert W. Amler, M.D., M.B.A., right, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice and vice president for government affairs, introduced Mr. Israel, highlighting the work he has done for more than 10 years to rejuvenate WMC when it was enduring challenging times. “Mr. Israel turned it all around, way beyond everyone’s expectations,” Dr. Amler said.

Mr. Israel shared, “The WMCHealth COVID-19 Experience,” a comprehensive timeline of the medical center’s operations in the early dark days of the pandemic in March 2020, vaccine distribution in both its early stages through its eventual approval for children, and the current hospital environment of the pandemic amidst booster shots and staff shortages.

“There are many things that hospitals practice,” Mr. Israel said. “You can’t practice a pandemic.” 

The lecture broke down five crucial phases of WMC’s COVID-19 response, which was presented in part by Mr. Israel and Josh Ratner, executive vice president and chief strategy officer for WMC.

The first phase discussed the initial outbreak of COVID-19 when hospitals weren’t yet sure what the scope of the pandemic would be. The immediate response included assessing staffing models, establishing dedicated COVID-19 treatment areas, reinforcing telehealth operations and financial constraints, such as the dramatically increased demand for personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We went from a pre-pandemic PPE annual expense of $1.9 million to $5.1 million,” Mr. Israel said.

Phase 2 described the Summer of 2020 when cases saw a sharp decline and elective surgeries largely were brought back, signaling a return from the heightened operations during the initial surge.  “Everybody was hoping optimistically that we had seen the worst of it behind us,” Mr. Ratner said.

The third phase focused on the initial distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to health care workers in January 2021. The next step was getting the general population vaccinated which entailed working out the logistics of transporting the vaccines, setting up mass vaccination sites and using vaccination status statistics to target areas of New York where there was vaccine hesitancy. Mr. Ratner credited the WMC Health Equity Task Force and Mill Etienne, M.D. '02, M.P.H., FAAN, FAES, vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, associate dean of student affairs and associate professor of neurology and of medicine, who chairs the task force, in helping build positive community relations with regard to vaccinations. 

“The WMC Health Equity Task Force really helped us understand some of these issues and tried to work with the providers to ensure that no community was left behind,” Mr. Ratner said.

Phase four tackled maintaining community vaccinations as the Delta variant surged in Spring of 2021 and as the vaccines became approved for most adults and children aged from 5-15. As of December 2021, the WMCHealth Vaccine Hub had administered 2.5 million vaccine doses in the Hudson Valley, redistributed 44,000 vaccine doses to providers who needed it and hosted 47 community outreach events.

The final phase reflected on the current state of WMCHealth during the recent Omicron surge, the effects of repeated surges infection on health care staff and preparing for future surges due to new variants.

Mr. Israel also discussed plans for WMC to construct a new patient bed tower, a five story, 159,870 square foot facility which will function as flexible infrastructure to provide increased capacity of beds when needed.

“We have to try to understand what the future is going to look like and be able to accommodate not only our patients, but be able to give our physicians, our nurses, other clinicians the appropriate environment to treat patients in,” Mr. Israel said. “I don’t think anyone can predict what the next public health issue will be out there.”