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© Chris Detrick
(Chris Detrick | Tribune File Photo) The Intermountain Medical Center in Murray photographed Tuesday August 25, 2009.

Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare announced Saturday it would send two COVID-19 response teams to help at New York hospitals experiencing severe staffing shortages due to the pandemic.

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The two 50-member teams of volunteers will be deployed for two weeks through New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Northwell Health, both in the New York City area, starting early next week.

“We just feel we need to go help,” said physician Dixie Harris, a pulmonary specialist and one of about 100 caregivers who will depart for New York beginning Tuesday. “It’s an inner calling. When you go to medical school, when you go to nursing school, you feel this need to go where you are needed.”

In return, an Intermountain spokesman said the New York health systems will try to return the favor by supporting Utah caregivers when the Beehive State faces its surge of COVID-19 patients, likely sometime in the next two months.

The teams were created, a top doctor at Intermountain said, after hundreds of the medical providers and clinicians said they wanted to help their counterparts in other states as they struggle to treat rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.

“I’m incredibly proud that so many of our caregivers want to help others in need, and we have the capacity right now to share our staff with others in the middle of their COVID-19 surge,” said physician Paul Krakovitz, Intermountain’s chief medical officer for specialty based care.

“Not only will they provide care for patients in New York, they will bring back knowledge and experience to share with their Utah colleagues that will help us serve Utah patients,” Krakovitz said.

He said the prospect of team members gaining invaluable experience in treating COVID-19 — and a deep desire to serve ill patients — had outweighed concerns for the personal safety of doctors and other caregivers, he said.

They are going out of the sense of duty and out of a sense of real need to give to our communities,” Krakovitz said Saturday at Intermountain’s facilities in Murray. “And to me, this is just an incredible moment.”

He said their experience would also prove invaluable with they returned to treat Utah patients.

When you are giving direct patient care is when you learn the most about any type of disease,” Krakovitz said. “You can read whatever you like, all the textbooks and podcasts but the reality is that we learn the most by being there.”

Utah officials have been assured the teams will be provided with adequate personal protective equipment to guard against infection, Krakovitz said — but they are nonetheless bringing their own supplies of masks and other protective gear.

The first of the teams — made up of doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, respiratory therapists and other caregivers — will depart Salt Lake City on Tuesday to assist at Northwell Health, a system of 23 hospitals and hundreds of clinics across New York City, Long Island and Westchester.

Harris said the Intermountain team members will staying at the same hotel in Queens, will be shuttled to and from patient treatment sites each day but will otherwise keep their distance from their colleagues and others while in New York.

I have no delusions that I’m going to be socializing at all,” she said. “In fact, I don’t want to be around them, though we will probably be connecting on social media.”

The second group from Intermountain will be sent within the next two weeks, a spokesman said. Krakovitz said team members had been selected by matching their specialties with what is now most in need at New York hospitals.

Intermountain said it caregivers will return when Utah’s surge in cases begins and “help is needed most,” which experts say is now anticipated in May or June.

The latest reports Saturday showed New York continues to be a worldwide epicenter of the coronavirus, with 172,358 confirmed cases and nearly 7,844 deaths so far.

Utah’s count of confirmed COVID-19 cases, meanwhile, stood at 2,102 as of late Friday, with 183 people hospitalized and 17 deaths.

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