An HCSC Doctor Volunteers on the COVID-19 Front Lines
June 2, 2020
In the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals in New York needed to boost capacity to accommodate the crushing number of patients seeking emergency medical care.
As part of that effort, Governor Andrew Cuomo called on clinicians who were retired or who didn’t currently work in direct patient care activities to volunteer their time to treat patients on the front lines of the pandemic.
Dr. Alex Lesko, a medical director with Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), raised his hand to volunteer.
“My heart is particularly drawn to things like this,” Lesko said, citing his faith as a major reason he felt called to care for patients on the front lines. “The moment I started reading articles coming from (New York City) about the devastation and suffering that’s been going on there, not only for the patients but the health care workers, it was kind of a no-brainer for me, after discussing it with my family, several close friends, and my manager, Dr. Indu Warrier.”
Lesko, who trained as a general surgeon, took time off to volunteer for two weeks at a hospital in New York City.
"I'm grateful I could help out in some small way."
HCSC employs about 3,000 clinicians, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, behavioral health professionals and others. As part of its response to the COVID-19 crisis, HCSC is allowing those clinicians to take time off and volunteer to care for COVID-19 patients. HCSC will pay for up to 80 hours of that time.
“We knew there were clinicians who work for us who had a desire to do something more and help,” said John Hosea, vice president of human resources benefits and operations. "It really strikes at the heart of what we do."
Lesko practiced medicine for over a decade before he started working for health plans. He joined HCSC in July 2017.
Though he’s based in Texas, he has a connection to New York City because that’s where he attended medical school and completed his residency rotations. He reached out to hospitals in the city to see if they needed support, and Mount Sinai Morningside in Manhattan responded within two hours.
After reactivating his medical license in New York and getting credentialed, Lesko flew to New York to start his volunteer shifts at the hospital. He worked eight 12-hour overnight shifts at the hospital, triaging patients in the emergency room after one night of shadowing other providers.
Lesko snapped this photo of Manhattan's empty streets during his trip to volunteer in one of the city's ERs.
“Most everyone I saw needed to be admitted,” Lesko said. Once patients were admitted, a team of other providers, like physician assistants and nurse practitioners, managed patients on the floor or sent them to the intensive care unit.
At the peak of the pandemic in New York City, Mount Sinai Health System had about 2,200 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, Lesko said. When he finished his last shift, there were under 1,000 COVID patients in the hospital system, and fewer patients were coming to the ER and being admitted with COVID-19 at the Morningside campus.
“I’m grateful I could help out in some small way,” Lesko said. “I wish I could have been here to help out more when they were in the thickest part of it, but they were still in need of help.”
Lesko is back at HCSC now, but he is still contemplating the time he spent at Mount Sinai Morningside and the impact the pandemic is having on the front-line responders.
“We’ve seen health care workers that have died as a result of caring for patients (with COVID-19). It’s a sobering reminder that many people truly are making sacrifices. I really wanted to remain present and appreciate all of the little things that went into lessening the burden of this devastating illness.”
Though he acknowledged the risks, Lesko encouraged other HCSC clinicians take advantage of the new program if they, too, feel the call. “It’s a gift HCSC gives us to be able to do this if your heart is drawn to volunteer.”