Northwell Honors Frontline Staff at COVID-19 Commemoration

·6 min read

One-year anniversary of pandemic at Long Island Jewish Medical Center marked with reflection

Northwell Health frontline staff, leaders and former patients today marked one year since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) began its deadly rampage through New York State by dedicating a mural at Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Medical Center.

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From left: Marie Ann Brussels Jabon and Naph Jabon with 10-month-old Lyon. Both are nurses at the Stern Family Center for Rehabilitation in Manhasset. Credit Northwell Health.

From the health system’s first hospitalized case of COVID-19, which appeared at Huntington Hospital on March 2, 2020, Northwell staffers responded professionally and heroically in a coordinated effort with local, state and federal agencies to stem the tide of the pandemic. It began inside the emergency departments at Northwell’s 19 hospitals throughout the region as physicians and nurses triaged a steady and growing tide of patients unsure of what ailed them. Northwell Health Labs quickly stood up diagnostic PCR testing capabilities – one of the nation’s first hospital-based labs to test for COVID-19 – and staffed New York State’s first drive-thru testing site in Westchester to help the residents of New Rochelle, the East Coast’s first hotspot.

That was March 2020. April would see the health system pushed to the brink with nearly 3,500 hospitalized cases in a single day and no end in sight. A determined and creative workforce held firm. No hospital handled more cases throughout the pandemic than the team at LIJ.

"No education or experience could have prepared us for what we went through," said Sandra Lindsay, RN, director of clinical care services at LIJ. "But my teammates were resilient; they came to work every day, put their heads down and got the work done. They went home and came back the next day. We leaned on each other. We supported each other. We laughed together and cried together. And that is what got us through the worst of the pandemic."

To commemorate the anniversary of LIJ’s first COVID-19 patient, a 15-foot painting, titled "Frontline Warriors 2020," was displayed in the lobby. Created by New York-based artists Sergio Barrale and Angela China, the painting had been on loan until LIJ administration and Northwell Health Foundation purchased it at auction and donated it back to Northwell. In it, nameless, masked frontline health care workers stand together with arms intermeshed in an unbreakable human chain. It is more than symbolic.

"Your ability to persevere and rise to the occasion was a lesson in courage, dedication and commitment, which should be remembered and celebrated throughout our lifetime," said Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health. "We will never forget your sacrifice and courage."

The health system treated more than 163,000 COVID-19 patients in the span of a year and acted as a bulwark in the communities it serves during this time of crisis. In leading the way, Northwell also lost employees to the virus. As a memorial to fallen team members, the health system will pay tribute with remembrance circles and other events at its facilities, a town hall for its 75,000 employees and with a light installation at the corporate headquarters in New Hyde Park. The Ralph A. Nappi Campus will be bathed in upward projecting lights between March 12-14, a 9/11-inspired beacon to the 24 team members who died.

Two who made it – Marie Ann Brussels Jabon and Naph Jabon, both nurses at the Stern Family Center for Rehabilitation in Manhasset – were on hand at LIJ to detail their COVID-19 odyssey. Ms. Brussels was COVID-positive when she delivered her son, Lyon, on April 23rd. She went home 11 days later. Lyon is now a happy and healthy 10-month-old and the couple are back to work.

"At one point I thought I wasn’t going to make it," said Ms. Brussels, who was on a respirator and in dire shape before recovering. "I was very fortunate that I did. Not everyone made it. They saved my son’s life. That’s the most important thing. To have a new life after all of this, it will wake you up and inspire you to help more people."

Northwell didn’t just survive, it thrived in the moment. Researchers at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research stood up several clinical trials in record time, helped engineer ways to expand ventilator capabilities and 3D print nasal swabs – all amid a nationwide crunch for both – while operations teams retrofitted hospitals to create more COVID-19 beds and physicians deployed several therapies with the goal of cutting hospitalizations and preventing acute disease. The Center for Emergency Medical Services, which operates the largest hospital-based ambulance fleet on the East Coast, became a leader in load balancing, Northwell’s secret weapon that kept hospitals in hard-hit Queens from being overrun by transferring patients throughout the health system.

Then came the vaccine. When Ms. Lindsay became the first American to be vaccinated on December 14, 2020, the image of her getting the shot ricocheted around the globe and instantly changed the trajectory of the virus from grim specter to one of hope.

"It took every ounce of courage and innovation for us to gain the upper hand on this devastating virus," said David Battinelli, MD, Northwell’s chief medical officer. "Yes, we lost patients, co-workers, friends and loved ones. But we saved so many more. We are working to find ever more effective therapies – and with three different vaccines being deployed, the end of the pandemic is within sight."

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About Northwell Health

Northwell Health is New York State’s largest health care provider and private employer, with 23 hospitals, 830 outpatient facilities and more than 16,600 affiliated physicians. We care for over two million people annually in the New York metro area and beyond, thanks to philanthropic support from our communities. Our 75,000 employees – 18,900 nurses and 4,800 employed doctors, including members of Northwell Health Physician Partners – are working to change health care for the better. We’re making breakthroughs in medicine at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research. We're training the next generation of medical professionals at the visionary Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and the Hofstra Northwell School of Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies. For information on our more than 100 medical specialties, visit and follow us @NorthwellHealth on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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Jason Molinet