December 14, 2020, is a date etched in the memory of Samuel Levine, NYU Langone Health’s director of operations and resourcing. Nine months to the day after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the institution began administering the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to employees under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s emergency use authorization. For Levine, it was more than a milestone. “Some staff had tears of joy and relief,” he recalls. “There was a sense that we’ve all been through so much, and getting vaccinated is the beginning of the end.”
Indeed, vaccination has been the true turning point in the pandemic, with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines proving at least 94 percent effective at preventing hospitalization among fully vaccinated adults. However, the 52 shots given that day to staff working on COVID-19 units—as well as the 156,000 first doses given to patients and employees by early May at 21 NYU Langone locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, and West Palm Beach, Florida—would not have been so seamless without the tireless efforts of the vaccination team, including physicians, nurses, and the Departments of Medical Center Information Technology (MCIT), Ambulatory Operations, Emergency Management, and Communications and Marketing. “People worked 24/7 to make sure we were set to go,” says Andrew Rubin, senior vice president for clinical affairs and ambulatory care. Rubin points to four strategies that ensured NYU Langone’s success.
1. Data at the Ready
For more than a decade, NYU Langone has mined Epic, its electronic health record system, for data that can inform quality and safety measures. In the case of vaccines, digital patient records simplified the process of prioritizing employees and patients. “We sliced and diced the data multiple ways and grouped patients more specifically than New York State guidelines did,” says Rubin. That was a big benefit during the early days of the rollout, when the vaccine supply was limited and the most vulnerable patients, including older adults and people with cancer, were given priority.
2. Clear Communication
NYU Langone notiﬁed its 1.5 million patients when they would be eligible, sending out more than 5 million emails, texts, and updates via NYU Langone Health MyChart, NYU Langone’s patient portal. “We provided clear instructions on how to make an appointment,” says Levine. Regular communication enhanced the institution’s relationships with the New York State and New York City Departments of Health, as well. Danielle Dropkin, associate director of strategy, planning, and business development, made sure government officials knew how NYU Langone planned to administer every dose, leading to Tisch Hospital becoming the first hospital in New York City to receive its vaccine shipments.
3. Scheduling Made Easy
With the number of available vaccines shifting from week to week, some area hospitals guessed how many slots would open for patients—and ended up canceling hundreds of appointments. NYU Langone never had to call off even one. The state’s notification for a Monday delivery could come as late as the night before, so Rubin; the operations team; Nicole Dittmar, assistant vice president, ambulatory operations and optimization; Suzanne Howard, vice president for MCIT clinical systems and integration; and Maureen Hickey, director for EpicCare Ambulatory, spent many weekends ensuring that eligible patients could book spots on time. The user-friendly MyChart platform simplified patients’ selection of a time and location on a computer or smartphone through the NYU Langone Health app. “Our vaccine process was uniquely reliable, coherent, and well organized,” says Rubin.
4. Sweat Equity
A hospital system is only as good as the people who run it, and here NYU Langone rose to the challenge. Administrators helped older patients navigate tablet check-ins at vaccination locations and assisted teachers, police officers, and firefighters in creating MyChart accounts. Nurses administered up to 15 vaccinations per hour. Whenever an extra dose was discovered—NYU Langone was among the first sites to draw an extra dose from vials of the Pfizer vaccine—practices called patients in search of a last-minute taker, fulfilling the mission of not wasting a single dose. “I would go through the hospital lobby looking for candidates,” says Levine. “If they met the criteria, I’d bring them for registration. We always found people.”