Staten Island University Hospital’s Executive Director Recounts COVID-19’s Wrath

For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the everyday heroism of healthcare workers. 

“You gotta give credit to the guys and gals that are running towards the burning building, and this is our burning building,” said Brahim Ardolic, M.D., the Executive Director of Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH).

At the peak of COVID-19’s wrath on Staten Island, hospitalizations and deaths hit staggering levels. According to Dr. Ardolic, as Coronavirus cases escalated, there were two competing interests among hospital staff, “It was this idea that we really want to help Staten Island, but then this competing fear.” 

Despite all of the uncertainty, hospital workers were able to repurpose locations and staffing, and adapt to the dire needs of COVID-19 patients. Dr. Ardolic explained, “We went from routinely running our hospital between 90 and 95 percent ICU capacity, and for three weeks, we ran our ICU at our North Site at 300 percent capacity and a smidge less than 300 at our South Site. We found ICU beds.” 

The lesson in ingenuity impressed the SIUH executive. “It was one of these recognitions that, you know, the hospital isn’t necessarily a place. It’s a skill set and a group of people who are taking care of somebody.” 

The Northwell Health hospital system, which SIUH is part of, distributed supplies as needed. By keeping the staff motivated, SIUH workers were able to provide the critical care Islanders needed to combat COVID-19.

“The fact that they were able to work with people they normally wouldn’t work with, the fact that I was able to take an ICU nurse as a leverage point and put them with non-ICU nurses so that we could actually take care of people, no one ever thought that we could do it, but we did it because we had to. And it probably, more than anything else, saved the most people’s lives,” said Dr. Ardolic. 

Unfortunately, COVID-19 still claimed the lives of thousands of New Yorkers. Hospital visitations were suspended from April 10, 2020, through June 19, 2020, leaving many alone during their final moments. 

“I’ll never fully understand what my environmental folks did during that process. Can you imagine, you’re the gal or the guy whose job it is to clean after the COVID patients who died? It’s very easy to dismiss that or to just say ‘they’re doing their job’ which they are, but every day they had to go in there and clean the room of the poor person who we just lost.

“I’ll still wake up and think of the nurse who held that person’s hand in the ICU. I’m thinking of one particular situation because the family just couldn’t be there and the day that I found out that this nurse did that with 11 other people…it was almost like ‘you watched how many people die?’ And it was a really important moment for me to recognize what some of these people went through.”

The fallout from the pandemic has hospital officials providing as much support as they can to their staff. The mental well-being of healthcare workers is as much of a concern as their physical health. And even though the 7 p.m. ‘clappy hours’ have de-escalated along with COVID-19 cases across the borough, the moments of gratitude made an impact on the resilience of SIUH members.

“It was really amazing to see that people understood. We were really trying to portray to our staff that they weren’t alone, and we weren’t alone! I think more than anything else, recognition of how difficult this actually was from other people who weren’t in it every single day, I think meant a lot to people. The clap-outs, what they were all about was: yeah, we’re actually in this together. We’re gonna get through this together, and we are actually going to be stronger.”