Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis has issued a message praising the “extraordinary response” of faculty and staff to the challenges faced during the coronavirus pandemic. The message reads as follows:
Dear members of the Stony Brook family:
One year ago, our school, community, and world were shaken by the coronavirus pandemic. It was a period of great fear and anxiety; there was still so much we didn’t know about this disease — from how it was transmitted to how to best protect ourselves, from all its specific early symptoms to exactly what we’d call it. But in the midst of these extraordinary times, the faculty and staff at Stony Brook have given a truly extraordinary response. You stepped up to maintain our institution’s mission. And now, at the start of March 2021, it is worth reflecting on all we have accomplished together over the past 365 days.
Stony Brook Medicine: First on the Front Lines
On this day last year, Stony Brook University Hospital activated its Hospital Incident Command Center, which is the nation’s universal response system for hospitals and first responders during emergencies, as COVID cases surged across New York State. The Stony Brook Medicine team responded to the crisis, not knowing how long it might last or what might be required.
Under the guidance and expert leadership of Chief Executive Officer Carol Gomes, the hospital quickly developed a surge plan to double its bed capacity. As the number of COVID patients climbed, hospital staff worked to open 300 additional beds, including 180 additional ICU beds. Inpatient units shifted to care exclusively for COVID patients. The Ambulatory Care Pavilion was converted into additional space for COVID patients.
The hospital established a fully staffed field ER on the Stony Brook University campus to treat thousands of patients with symptoms of coronavirus in a safe location away from the main Emergency Department. Next to the field ER, New York State established a drive-through coronavirus testing site for the public, staffed by our doctors and nurses, which is still in operation today.
We also pivoted in the way we cared for outpatients. Led by Margaret McGovern, MD, vice president, health system clinical programs and strategy, the Stony Brook Medicine healthcare system expanded telehealth services for outpatients. Our network of providers served individuals across four hospitals and more than 230 ambulatory care settings to make sure our patients received the right level of care, in the right place and at the right time.
Stony Brook University’s Quick and Critical Thinking
The first week of March 2020 was when our university began seriously adapting and changing its operational policies. It began by limiting international travel. Then SUNY called home those students who were studying abroad in countries where the case counts were mounting. Stony Brook housed all SUNY students returning from Italy, Japan, and South Korea for precautionary quarantine at Stony Brook Southampton Campus.
In that same week, Stony Brook University formally announced its COVID-19 Response Planning Team, and quickly formed working groups with dozens of administrators, faculty, and staff to transition to remote learning and work. Larry Zacarese, assistant vice president for campus safety and senior operations director for institutional resiliency and business continuity, and Judy Greiman, chief deputy to the president, brought their experience, resources, and excellent planning skills to lead these efforts.
The decision was made for all classes to transition to remote learning following spring break. The team at the Center for Excellence Learning and Teaching (CELT) ramped up support for faculty transitioning to online instruction. Residence halls were closed and most residents sent home. On March 22, the governor announced that all nonessential personnel would work remotely. Then, in the summer, university facilities staff completed a massive redesign of classrooms, common areas, and offices to maintain social distance; our custodial staff formed and followed extensive new cleaning protocols; Human Resources developed a health information line to advise employees; Student Affairs made a huge commitment to testing, contact tracing, and quarantining; and our Marketing and Communications team led a campaign, Coming Back Safe and Strong, to keep our community aware. That early response and thoughtful planning eventually allowed for a successful return to campus for some in-person classes and work in the fall semester.
Researchers on Both Sides of Nicolls Road Focus on COVID
A university with an academic medical center plays a critical role in addressing a global public health crisis, even beyond the care provided to patients and the community. Stony Brook scholars turned their brainpower on all manner of COVID research questions, including the shape of the novel coronavirus’ spike protein and its role in infection, effective treatments of COVID, clinical trials for vaccinations, and a groundbreaking longitudinal study to follow survivors and the long-term effects of the virus. In all, Stony Brook faculty have initiated more than 200 COVID-related research studies.
Generous Community Support
So many in our community turned out to provide aid. Donors offered to locate PPE for hospital workers; others provided emergency student aid for those who needed Wi-Fi, laptops, food, and alternative housing arrangements. The Office of Government and Community Relations worked with University Conferences and Special Events and University Police Department’s emergency management team to establish the Wang Center as the central hub for donations, including masks crafted by the Stony Brook Stitchers and comfort items and meals supplied by local businesses for our healthcare workers. Volunteers in the Division of Information Technology’s iCREATE lab started making face shields to be sent across Nicolls Road to those caring for patients, while Department of Chemistry volunteers produced hand sanitizer.
For all of the heroic work that emerged in March 2020 and continues today, it is necessary and important to acknowledge the terrible toll that the disease has taken on our community. More than a half a million Americans, nearly 50,000 New Yorkers and more than 3,000 in Suffolk County lost their lives, and although we are diligent in our work to recover from the pandemic, we mourn these profound losses with our community.
The Challenges Ahead
Now we are leading the way in the vaccine response. We have been recognized among the highest-performing vaccine distribution sites in New York State, with the hospital routinely administering 100 percent of its vaccine allocations to staff, and we run the New York State vaccine site on the university campus where it recently celebrated giving its 25,000th vaccine. We are also assisting the state in setting up “pop-up” vaccination sites across Long Island to reach the elderly and minority populations in medically underserved areas. This mission will continue into the spring and summer.
There are many unsung heroes to thank. No one has been impacted more directly by the pandemic than our healthcare professionals, and through it all, the hospital faculty and staff have provided outstanding care to our patients.
Our university faculty, staff, and students — through their persistence, respect, and care for our community — were responsible for Stony Brook’s remaining open for in-person and hybrid learning for a full 13 weeks in the fall semester.
As we mark this significant and somber milestone, we also look forward to brighter days ahead. If there is one thing we have learned from this experience, it is that we will get through this as a team. We have helped, challenged, and brought out the best in one another. And we will continue to do so, because together we are Stony Brook Strong.