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16/10/2021

Limerick Person of the Month: Honour for Knockaderry native who led 75,000 staff through Covid pandemic

Limerick Person of the Month: Honour for Knockaderry native who led  75,000 staff through Covid pandemic

Michael Dowling

A KNOCKADERRY man who successfully navigated the largest healthcare provider in New York through the Covid-19 crisis when the city became the epicentre of America's coronavirus outbreak, has been named the Limerick Person of the Month. 

Michael Dowling who was raised in a thatched cottage in Knockaderry is president and CEO of Northwell Health where he leads a clinical,  academic and research enterprise with a workforce of more than 75,000 and an annual revenue of $14 billion. 

Northwell is the  largest healthcare provider and private employer in New York State, caring for more than two million people annually through a vast network of more than 830 outpatient facilities and 23 hospitals. 

“We realised in early January that it was coming - that it was definitely going to come to New York,” recalled Mr Dowling of Covid-19  in a telephone interview with the Limerick Leader from New York on Wednesday of last week, St Patrick’s Day. 

Usually, on a day like today, Manhattan is packed with thousands of people milling about, taking in the colour and atmosphere of the St Patrick’s Day parade. But on this Wednesday “it’s just like a regular day. I’m at work all day,” says Mr Dowling. 

Covid-19 of course has turned the world upside down over the past 12 months and this time last year Mr Dowling and his colleagues were monitoring the situation in Wuhan, China and in Italy and were in discussions with their peers on potential outcomes for New York.

“We have a very sophisticated disaster management plan here. We actually didn’t get our first case until March 2 but we had our plans in place at the beginning of January. We had more Covid cases than anywhere in the country in my system. Each day we had 3,500 cases in my hospitals.”

Where necessary, Michael moved patients from hospital to hospital “so none of my hospitals got overcrowded. I have my own ambulance company with about 150 ambulances on the road and I have my own helicopter service. In my company alone we have treated 190,000 Covid patients.”

Mr Dowling had a feeling that there would be at least six months of living with Covid.

“Once you realise you are in a pandemic, pandemics don’t come and go quickly. We will be in this until the end of the year. I’ve already vaccinated about 250,000 people. I can vaccinate almost 100,000 a week once I get the supply. It’s difficult getting the supply. We are expecting it will get better in April. We are using Pfizer, Moderna and J&J. Almost all my employees have been vaccinated.”

Things are quite good now in New York with Covid case numbers “going way, way down”. Most facilities have opened up. There are no real restrictions. A lot of people are working remotely because it’s easier to do that now. However, schools are not fully open just yet. 

Back in November there was much speculation that president-elect Joe Biden was interested in securing Mr Dowling for a role in his health administration.

“I’ve met Joe Biden numerous times,” Mr Dowling points out. 

“I know him but I’m not interested in going to Washington.  They wanted to talk to me and I had some preliminary discussions but I basically said I wasn’t interested, I’m not moving to Washington. I’m involved in so much stuff, I have my hands full. I’ve been in government in the past, I don’t want to do it again. Joe’s a very, very nice guy. I think he’s doing a pretty good job.” 

The father-of-two works seven days a week and hasn't had a day off in about a year and nine months.

“It’s busy but I enjoy it. I’ve a great team of people here. I hire the best people I can find. I work at home on the weekends. I live in Long Island. I have an apartment in Manhattan so I split my time. I have done a couple of books recently. I follow the hurling. I met the Limerick team when they came over here.”

Mr Dowling played senior hurling with Limerick and was on the team which won the National League in 1971.

When asked what is the first thing he would do if he got his hands on the Irish healthcare system he said he would restructure the HSE from top to bottom.

“It’s too bureaucratic,” he asserts. “They’ve got to get rid of this central bureaucracy. You need a central office but the people in Dublin cannot be managing how Limerick hospital runs. They can set the rules but they cannot be managing it operationally, it makes no sense at all. And you get rid of people who don’t cut it.

“Our hospitals are busy - we have 23 of them. They are very large but you are only in the hospital here if you are very, very sick, everything else is moving to outpatient and the quality is better, the service is better. But you have to have a very organised system to make that happen.” 

Mr Dowling is married to Kathleen Butler, an Irish American, and he has two children Brian, who runs a lot of the group’s technology business and Elizabeth who is a nurse.

His brother Pat is CEO of Clare County Council, his brother Joe lives near Newcastle West and his sister Mary lives in Knockaderry. 

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