Working in the Epicenter of a Pandemic
Published on 24 April 2020
With New York City now the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Faith Byland, Pharm.D. ’16, staff pharmacist at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, has been working under increasing pressure and time restraints to provide the best care possible to her patients.
With more than 100,000 COVID-19 cases now confirmed in New York City, we connected with Byland to discuss her role in providing care for COVID-19 positive patients, the important role of the pharmacist at this time and what life looks like when “the city that never sleeps” goes on lockdown.
What are your current responsibilities, and how have they changed during the pandemic?
Prior to the pandemic, pharmacists at Mount Sinai were typically assigned to work in a single area of the hospital. I specialized in the emergency, psychiatry and rehabilitation departments, as well as post anesthesia care units.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, pharmacists are getting cross trained in all areas of the hospital to help with the workload. In recent weeks, I have been cross-trained to work in the ICUs. With the number of COVID-positive patients on the rise and many of our staff testing positive, pharmacists are taking on as many tasks and roles as possible to accommodate.
In addition, much of my work and the work of my pharmacy colleagues has been focused on staying updated on continuing changes related to COVID-19 policies, formulary changes and recommendations from the hospital, and communicating these changes to hospital’s medical teams.
How are you working to provide the best care possible for your patients during this unprecedented time?
When the COVID-19 pandemic started to hit New York City, most of our patients weren’t critical and we were mostly providing them with oxygen and discharging them. As time went on, the severity has drastically increased and most patients are on ventilators and requiring oxygen.
As pharmacists, we are trying to limit our direct patient contact as much as possible to prevent exposure. This means we’re having to go the extra mile to complete consults and complete tasks, such as medication reconciliations. We are communicating through the nurses and other medical team members to relay information to patients to limit our contact.
However, it is not always possible to refrain from direct contact, so when I have to meet in person with COVID-19 positive patients, I ensure I am wearing the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) and following the most up-to-date policies and procedures to protect myself, the patients and other medical professionals in the hospital.
This situation is unlike anything I have ever been a part of, and I feel like it’s a privilege to be able to help these patients in such a difficult time in their lives.
New York City is the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. What has it been like to work at one of the city’s main hospitals right now?
I feel privileged and honored to work in New York City at any time, but this is especially true now. Prior to living in New York City, I had never worked for an institution as large as Mount Sinai, so it’s really amazing to see the teamwork and incredible effort everyone is putting forth to beat this pandemic.
This experience has definitely been overwhelming, scary and exhausting at times, but I always try to maintain the most positive perspective that I can because I’m in a place where I have the opportunity to help patients to overcome this pandemic one patient at a time.
As a health care provider, there are moments when I feel defeated because of the severity of illness in patients and the unfortunate deaths that occur, but I also feel motivated by the many patients who have recovered and are returning home.
One of the most beautiful experiences in all of this has been hearing the nightly cheering that occurs in New York City and many other areas in the nation at 7 p.m. to recognize essential workers. The first time I heard those cheers, I stopped in my tracks and tears were streaming down my face because I realized we are all united in fighting the fight to beat this pandemic.
What has it been like living in New York City during this time?
My husband BJ and I moved to New York in 2018, and we are both pharmacists. Since we are working in the U.S. epicenter of this pandemic and are both in such high exposure environments, we have been wearing PPE when going out. In our daily life, we try to be as cautious and safe as possible and only leave our apartment for essential things such as walking our dogs, or going to work or the grocery store.
It’s been very surreal to see such a busy and beautiful city become so quiet within weeks. Streets that once were packed are practically empty and a majority of shops and restaurants are empty and boarded up. It’s very eerie to experience New York City like this, but also beautiful at the same time.
It’s such a sad time for New York City and the nation, but I feel so privileged to be working in health care right now. I’m honored to have the opportunity and ability to help those in need, especially when they feel the most helpless.
There have been conversations about how the role of the pharmacist is being overlooked right now. What are your thoughts on the importance of the work of pharmacists at this time?
I think pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have always been silent warriors and heroes. I feel as though we tend to get overlooked because we aren’t always on the front line of care and a portion of our work is done behind-the-scenes.
For me, my work has and always will be about the patients and providing them with the best care possible. While it can be discouraging that the role of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians often seems to go unnoticed, it doesn’t mean that we are not a vital and crucial part of the care and progress of a patient. I know that what we do behind-the-scenes to ensure that the patients are taken care of is what matters the most.
What impact do you think this crisis will have on your future work as a pharmacist?
I feel like this pandemic has put into perspective how vital pharmacy is to the community and our nation’s health care system. I think the situation has also shed light on the role of the pharmacist on the patient care team and the information, knowledge and resources we can provide.
St. Louis College of Pharmacy is proud of the health care heroes, many that are alumni and current students at the College, who have stepped up during this pandemic.
The College is committed to sharing these stories to highlight the leadership and selfless dedication demonstrated by members of our community, and to recognize the critical contributions of pharmacists and health care workers.