In your career you’ve been an EMT and President of a volunteer ambulance service. What drew you to health care? What keeps you engaged?
I actually just stumbled into my work with healthcare. I got my EMT certification during my undergraduate college education at the age of 18, because I thought it would be interesting and useful. Then, I wanted to be sure I used my training and started volunteering with my college’s EMS squad. Volunteerism was something ingrained in me from childhood. As a part of that team, I discovered how much I really loved practicing as an EMT. I also got involved in a local ambulance corps in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I enjoyed my work and volunteering so much, I took on more and more responsibility, eventually being elected President. For me, being an EMT—and loving it—comes from the drive to help people, especially when they are at their most vulnerable. I enjoy getting to be that calm and collected person during some of the most stressful situations, and the thanks I get from my patients and their families keeps me motivated day in and day out. Even on the particularly bad calls, I know that I am always doing the best that I or anyone else can do for the patient.
What are some of the challenges you face as Director, Safety and Emergency Management at NYC Health + Hospitals?
Safety and Emergency Management are tough fields, especially in the healthcare setting. The work I do directly keeps our patients, staff, and visitors safe and keeps our hospital open. Emergency Management relies on bringing organization in some of the most chaotic situations. Decisions have direct and widespread impact on the operation. My job is one of constant reflection, where we must apply the lessons we learn back to improve upon our daily operations. One of the largest challenges I face is that practicing and preparing for emergencies is time consuming. I have to work with my colleagues to ensure that everyone is trained and practiced during “blue sky” days, so that when something occurs, all of the staff in the hospital are knowledgeable and ready to keep our patients safe and first in everything we do.
What are some examples of emergencies that you and your staff had to overcome?
Emergencies in hospitals can cover a wide range of cases from significant floods to utility system failure. We have to be ready to respond to anything that can disrupt our normal book of business. If a situation arises, we don’t have the luxury of closing down the hospital. As part of the city’s public hospital system, we have an even more critical role of taking care of all New Yorkers. In my role as the Emergency Manager for NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem, we have had to manage all sorts of incidents, from blizzards to a visit from the President of Sierra Leone. Last year’s flu season was extremely impactful and we are always practicing for other special pathogens, such as Ebola. We responded to a fire on one of our units, causing us to evacuate some patients temporarily. I have also had to manage Mass Casualty incidents, where an influx of patients are brought to our Emergency Department all at once. In addition, recently we have had several patient surges, where our team set up an entire new unit within 24 hours to accommodate all the patients. Each time we handle an emergency, we are constantly assessing how we handled the situation, and updating our processes and plans to minimize any effects to patient care and to stay ahead of the next emergency.
What has your experience as an Executive MPA student been like thus far? How has it applied professionally?
My time in the Executive MPA program has been incredibly fulfilling. I knew that there would be a large volume of work, but the payoff far exceeds the cost. I have been lucky to join an incredible cohort of my peers and we continue to learn from each other every single week. The academics have been wonderful, and I really enjoy every class I have taken. One of my favorite things about the program is its direct and immediate applicability to my professional life. I see how the lessons I learn in the classroom make an impact on me and my staff. I have seen numerous times that on Monday, my lesson from the previous Saturday has provided me new knowledge or skills that I will need to apply, and am now equipped to do so. During one instance, I was on a conference call with a CDC representative about the flu season, and he was talking about studies and the data interpretation that we had just reviewed in class. I was so excited that I now understood everything, I just had to tell my professor!