July 1, 2021 – For New Yorkers, March 11 to May 2, 2020, was arguably the worst time of the pandemic.
Nearly 19,000 people have died from COVID-19 in New York City during those weeks, translating into more than 350 deaths per day and more than one death every 5 minutes. No one has experienced the chaotic first days of the pandemic as much as the city’s essential workers, including those on the front lines at Mount Sinai Hospital.
And in The sudden ascent to Mount Sinai, a documentary aired on discovery + today, you will be transported to the hospital’s intensive care units and meet several hospital patients early on, as well as the heroic doctors, nurses and support staff of Mount Sinai ICU.
To find out how his staff are doing and what he thought of the film, we interviewed David L. Reich, MD, president of Mount Sinai, one of the largest and most overwhelmed health systems in the country, via Zoom. Read on for his thoughts on COVID-19, the documentary, and what worries him most right now.
WebMD: When did you know we were in trouble with this virus?
Reich: End of February. I am fortunate to be in contact with colleagues in Italy, and messages of desperation have started to pass during this time. It was very scary. They explained that it is not just a respiratory virus and that it is overwhelming hospitals and staff. They told me to try to be ready.
WebMD: The film really dives into the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that your team is still feeling. How much are you focusing on this today?
Reich: We are fortunate to have Dr. Dennis Charney as the Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He’s an expert in resilience, and he jumped on it because these issues concern us first and foremost. We recently created the Center for Stress, Resilience and Personal Growth to help our staff recover. This virus was like a war, and we know from wartime PTSD that PTSD has phases and can last for a long time. The most difficult thing for our staff was the fear of getting infected or of bringing the infection home. Then there was the fact that with this virus, our patients died alone without the presence of their family members. The staff stepped in, doing FaceTime with family members saying goodbye. Our chaplains could not be in the hospital so if families requested, the staff, especially our nurses, would pray at the time of death. We were one substitute for families who couldn’t be there at the most emotional time of life – when you lose a loved one. Intervening at that point was something that changed us all forever.