Ithaca hospital buses dozens of employees to NYC to fight coronavirus

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Big-hearted hospital workers from a small city in central New York are headed to the Big Apple on a 200-plus-mile road trip to help out at a hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

Cayuga Health in Ithaca sent doctors, nurses and other staff members aboard two buses provided by the nearby Cornell University on Wednesday morning to help out at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

“Our challenge in Ithaca lies ahead of us, it’s in our future, but today, our brethren in New York City are in dire need of help and assistance as the peak of this disease is upon them,” said Dr. Marty Stallone, the hospital’s president and CEO, standing under a banner that read “Heroes Work Here” before the team left.

“You are answering that call,” he told the crew.

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The 51-person team was chosen from more than 100 volunteers who answered an urgent call for help from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Syracuse.com reported. They will receive their normal salaries, bonuses and have their lodging and other expenses covered by the hospital.

Dr. David Evelyn, Cayuga’s vice president of medical affairs, told the outlet that officials hope to have some of the mission’s cost reimbursed by the state or federal government.

But, she said, “our first mission is to help patients out, and we feel obligated to do this.”

Officials at both the hospital and the university had urged the local community to give the medical team an enthusiastic sendoff -- while maintaining responsible social distancing of at least 6 feet and wearing protective masks.

Thompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne offered to assist the buses on their way out of the city, according to the hospital, and representatives from the Watkins Glen International racetrack followed the procession on its way out of town in the NASCAR official pace car.

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“All of you are here this morning, with your suitcases and your scrubs, you’re answering the call of New York City, of your fellow New Yorkers, and of your professions,” Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack said at the send-off through a video link.

“You’re leaving your homes, you’re leaving your families,” she added. “You’re going to an incredibly challenging situation where you’re so needed, where your help will be so appreciated, and where you’re gonna be able to do so much good.”