It was also tough on Mucaria, who said she did not have a day off in more than four months. She was worried about possibly bringing the coronavirus home, so she always stayed in a separate room. Some days, she said, she slept on the couch in her office. Mucaria noted the core leadership team, from nursing and physician to administrative leaders, “basically lived here for months.”
When they weren’t at the hospital, they were constantly on phone and Zoom calls. The worst weekend for Mucaria was Easter weekend. She said she had some people at her home, so she locked herself in her bedroom and was on the phone all weekend.
“As a leader, you could never show anybody that you’re scared,” she said. “You could never show anybody that you don’t have the situation under control.
“Even if we were nervous or unsure, we could never communicate that,” Mucaria added. “After doing that for months, it gets tiring.”
What helped was the support of the local community. Every day, donations from places Mucaria never even heard of arrived the hospital. Mucaria recalled the half-day she spent making bouquets after the hospital received big barrels of flowers. They received food for months.
The local Dunkin Donuts would send the entire staff coffee and donuts every Monday. They received PPE from doctor’s offices and ambulatory surgery sites that were closed. The donations ranged from shakes, snacks and granola bars to thank you cards.
“We had anything you could think of,” Mucaria said. “The outpouring of love, whether it was a note from a kid out in South Dakota to restaurants in the community that just kept sending food, it was very touching.
“We would never have been able to do it without that,” she added. “We are eternally grateful for that.”
COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates in the city eventually flattened over the summer, but as winter nears, the city has already seen a concerning spike. This time around, Mucaria said the hospital is much better prepared. Health care professionals also know much more about the disease than at the start of the pandemic.
Mucaria also noted that for some reason – whether it’s herd immunity or that the virus has mutated – people are not getting as sick as they were before. Overall, hospitals know much better how to treat the virus. Another important factor is that hospitals now have their surge plans ready.
Mucaria said she knows when NewYork-Presbyterian Queens reaches a certain number of patients, they have to start converting their units.
“We documented everything we did before,” she said. “We had many, many debriefs about what went well and what didn’t go so well, so as to not make the same mistake twice.”
In the last few months, the NewYork-Presbyterian enterprise ordered stockpiles of PPE, so they have enough protective equipment. She also noted that it’s “much clearer” what staff has to wear, from masks to eye shields, and that they should always socially distance and wash their hands frequently.
“A lot of the things that we were learning are now cast in stone,” Mucaria added.