Dan Blum officially took over as Sinai Hospital and Grace Medical Center’s new president two weeks ago. Previously, he served as president and CEO of Northwell Health’s Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, New York.
Blum is starting his new role at a unique time. He spoke about his transition to his new role, how Maryland is handling the crisis, and more.
This interview has been edited for space.
What is it like starting a new position right now?
It is a very strange transition. In essence, I’ve picked up and moved to a new city where I really didn’t know anybody. Moving has been an odyssey so everything is shut down. Even buying furniture, I’ve been sleeping on the floor of the apartment, with just my clothes on the floor. For the first couple weeks I did not have a single pot or pan. It’s also a new city, but I can’t meet people in a social environment as you normally would outside of work, which is alienating.
There is some tranquility where you can view this solitude in a peaceful way.
Work-wise, it’s very strange to start this new job, a public job, to learn the physical layout of the building, to meet all these colleagues while social distancing. People look for leadership right now, and in an industry like this, it is hard to do that remotely.
At the same time, we will all come through this and have developed relationships during a crisis. As humans, we take certain comfort through shared experience. When you’ve been through hard times together and learn you can rely on another person during times of stress, there is just a sincerity that comes with that.
As someone with emergency management experience, what is your opinion of the recent crisis management?
It appears to me the state has done a good job, and not a biased or politically motivated one. It must be tremendously difficult for elected officials. It’s sort of like being a surgeon: You render somebody unconscious, paralyze them, then cut into their body. It’s for the purpose of healing them. Our elected officials have had to shut down the economy, which is not healthy for their political careers.
You see places like New York, where this is out of control. For many, even if they don’t die, it is a terrible experience.
The governor has been definitive, he’s been thoughtful, he’s been organized. Many of the moves have been quite proactive, and I’m sure it must have taken courage to make those decisions.
What do you think about the protests against stay-at-home orders?
I really do get it. There’s all sorts of challenges. I really worry that people are not receiving care for their non-COVID conditions. I think of domestic violence and mental illness, just the socialization that is so important for younger people. Yes, they may have a cellphone, but it is really hard for people. Particularly the economic pressure on people is tense.
I’m just one to think we’ve got to thread the needle on this. If we say, “Hey, it wasn’t too bad, here let’s open everything up immediately,” there likely will be harm that is just so far greater. I don’t envy the job in particular of the governors.
I do think there are certain indicators that can be used to help guide decision-making. When you’re in the thick of illness presentations, and it’s increasing, that’s not the time to promote everything opening up. You need to wait until the incident rate is waning significantly over a period of time. Then you need to have infrastructure in place so that when — not if, but when — you find a spread of illness again, you can ready containment measures.
Can you tell me about the plasma donations?
We have just started receiving convalescent plasma. There are two sources we are looking to.
We used a clinical algorithm to understand who has been exposed and developed an immune response. They may have been infected and not even known it. I myself enrolled in our clinical study, so I gave blood to see.
Next week, we will be able to commercialize the use of that test, meaning a movement from the theoretical science side of it to employing it to determine whether people have been infected in larger numbers.
What closing thoughts would you like to share?
We are living in a super challenging times, but we have to remain resilient and optimistic. If we’re cautious, we’ll get through this and the economy will recover.
I also want to remind people: We’ve shut down so much, some people are neglecting elements of their health right now. Some people who had a heart attack days ago are not seeking care because everything is so restricted.
We’re here. It’s a safe environment. If the doctors are closed, we have tele-help capabilities. Don’t neglect yourself.