Our frontline health workers are the first responders in the fight against the coronavirus. These health professionals will also be our guides and community allies on the road to our full recovery as a healthy nation. To honor their extraordinary compassion and caregiving, #FirstRespondersFirst and the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare are sharing their inspiring stories. 

At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in New York, Dr. Pilar Gonzalez helped establish the Adopt a Floor program and The Jose and Jesus Gonzalez Family-Patient Hotline at Elmhurst Hospital to facilitate direct medical updates for the families and loved ones of COVID patients. Here, Dr. Jennifer Pintiliano-Gemmo, a colleague and friend of Dr. Gonzalez, shares the story behind Dr. Gonzalez’s efforts. 

Dr. Pilar Gonzalez, director of ambulatory pediatrics at Elmhurst Hospital, was dealing with two ill family members in Spain stricken by COVID-19 just as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread here in New York. Her brother and father were hospitalized, and each day Dr. Gonzalez would come to work and assume all the stresses of administering a pediatric clinic in the face of an accelerating pandemic.

Although she was not in Spain, Dr. Gonzalez was constantly reaching out to the physicians caring for her loved ones so she could update the entire family. As a physician, she navigated the system more easily than others, but still faced many roadblocks. She recognized these updates were the lifeline to her family, and wanted to do something similar at Elmhurst.

Sadly, Dr. Gonzalez’s brother and father died of COVID-19 within a week of each other. Despite these devastating losses, she remained at work — focused on helping families in New York.

Talks of a patient hotline at Elmhurst were underway, and Dr. Gonzalez took the lead. She orchestrated a team of physicians to respond to COVID-19 patients who were calling the hospital to discuss test results. A separate phone line was simultaneously established for the purpose of allowing families to call in with questions. For both hotlines, phone calls are returned by Elmhurst physicians.

In addition to the family hotline, Dr. Gonzalez created the Adopt a Floor program. One or two physicians are assigned to a COVID unit, including our intensive care units. Each day, they review the chart, gather pertinent information, and call the family with an update. When the staff make these calls and write a telephone note, physicians document the reason for the call as the JG Family-Patient Connection, named for her father, Jose, and brother, Jesus.

Within a week of the hotline’s launch in April, Elmhurst started receiving approximately 250 calls per day. In addition, another 200 to 250 calls were  being made on a daily basis to the families of hospitalized patients. We knew there was a need for this vital communication, but were pressed to figure out the logistics. Dr. Gonzalez put this program together quickly and efficiently and made it work.

Dr. Gonzalez has done an amazing job for the families of patients hospitalized with COVID in the wake of the heartbreaking loss of her father and brother. Our staff is making a difference in the lives of the families we serve. Our patients look forward to our daily calls because they know they can turn to us for compassion, reassurance, and hope. I am proud to have her as my colleague and friend.