St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside is home to a vulnerable population – one that might be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus should they become infected. But early on, St. Mary’s leadership took extreme precaution and instituted a handful of measures to help keep its staff and vulnerable children safe.
“We have some very, very sick children in the facility,” said Dr. Edwin F. Simpser, CEO and president of St. Mary’s. “We’ve been working very diligently to protect those kids from getting COVID-19. And so far, we’ve been quite successful.”
The hospital, which cares for children who are recovering or rehabilitating from complex medical conditions, was in position to meet the crisis head on, according to Simpser. Each winter, they routinely test children for viruses that could cause more harm to them then the general population. This year, they were able to add the COVID-19 test into the mix.
Additionally, the hospital has taken measures to help prevent the virus from ever making it into the walls of the hospital. Outside vendors have been barred from entering the building, as have meetings with non-employees. Staff are required to wear masks and have their temperature taken before entering the building. Additionally, routine family visits have also been eliminated.
To replace the valuable in-person visits with family, the hospital set up the capacity to hold virtual meetings.
“We very, very quickly set up virtual visits for families with the kids,” Simpser said. “We have staff with iPads that go from room to room and we set up FaceTime or Skype visits between the families and the kids.”
Some families have even chosen to board with their children – making the promise not to leave the hospital in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
As other hospitals and healthcare facilities in the city struggled with their supply of personal protective equipment for staff and ventilators for COVID-19 patients, St. Mary’s found itself prepared and indebted to generous donors.
In addition to a regular shipment from the Department of Health, St. Mary’s received donations of masks and other PPE from donors in the community.
“[People] have just gone out and bought surgical masks and just donated them, which bas been very helpful for us,” Simpser said.
While the work hasn’t been easy, Simpser said, St. Mary’s infrastructure and it’s donations have helped make the transition to protecting its children from infection relatively seamless. A big part of this is due to the dedication of the hospital’s tireless staff, according to Simpser.
“Our staff have tremendous anxiety around this pandemic, around what’s going on,” Simpser said. “And yet, our staff are unwavering.”
Members of the staff, in some cases, have had to leave their homes hours earlier than they normally would, due to the changes in public transportation. Others have switched shifts with their colleagues to ensure that everyone has adequate time to spend with their own families.
“There hasn’t been any sense at all from any of our staff about reluctance to come in and to see their patients and to take care of everybody. In fact, it’s been the opposite,” Simpser said. “ Everybody says ‘I’m a healthcare professional, I’m here to help take care of these kids and I’m going to make it work.’ It’s just been marvelous to see our staff step up and contribute to our kids, to our families and to each other.”
Additional reporting by Jenna Bagcal.