Meeting the Moment
Resilient. Resourceful. Dedicated.
For more than 135 years, Memorial Sloan Kettering has always cared for patients with compassion and cutting-edge medicine. The extraordinary events of 2020 did not deter us. Read the stories of strength and perseverance in MSK’s 2020 annual report.
When the pandemic struck, the MSK community rose up with unwavering focus on what mattered most: exceptional cancer care, research, and education.
—United in the Face of Crisis
Watch this video to see how MSK transformed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to continue our mission while keeping patients and staff safe and hear from some of our healthcare heroes.
—Developing a Test — and Fast
MSK developed and deployed one of New York City’s first US Food and Drug Administration-authorized COVID-19 tests. The day after it was deployed, MSK had its first positive case. “I remember running down the stairs to the laboratory and just taking in that okay, this is happening,” says Esther Babady, Section Head for MSK’s Clinical Microbiology Laboratory and a leader in developing the test. Watch this video to hear more from Dr. Babady.
—Jumping into Action
MSK moved quickly with a plan of action. On February 5, the Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) issued the first of what would become 76 emergency communications by the end of the year to protect patients and staff from COVID-19 infection. “We didn't have all the answers, but we wanted to make sure we were communicating what we did know, as soon as we knew it,” says HICS Incident Commander Cynthia McCollum. “Facing this challenge together made us an even stronger organization.”
—Ramping Up Testing
Infectious disease expert Monika Shah recalls testing at MSK ramped up quickly to protect patients and staff. “We went from manually ordering COVID-19 tests to a self-scheduling system scaled up for thousands of our employees.”
—Responding to the Emergency
MSK mounted a rapid response to the state of emergency declared by Governor Andrew Cuomo on March 7. “That’s when things became real for our team,” says Marcia Levine, Vice President, Perioperative & Inpatient Nursing Services. “We began meeting twice daily to determine how to provide essential surgeries while converting 20 operating rooms into ICU beds for COVID-19 patients.”
—Staying Connected Safely
Many patients were afraid to come to MSK amid the pandemic. In just six days, medical oncologist and HICS member Diane Reidy-Lagunes (left, with gastroenterologist Mark Schattner) helped adapt an existing remote monitoring system so patients could report COVID-19 symptoms via telemedicine. “This allowed us to stay connected to our patients while keeping them safe in their own homes,” she says.
A monumental effort by MSK’s tech team made it possible for many of MSK's staff — 21,000 strong — to work remotely. New systems were built from scratch. Atefeh Riazi, Chief Information Officer, says, “It was an incredible adjustment. The ‘future’ happened overnight.” Watch this video to hear Ms. Riazi describe how this transformation was also critical for safely continuing patient care.
—Stepping Up and Pitching In
Volunteers, too, stepped up to the plate. About 90 members of the Volunteer Resources Department fanned out across all MSK patient care locations, doing temperature checks at entrances, assisting with personal protective equipment (PPE), and later, helping in MSK’s vaccine clinic. Volunteers in the Patient and Caregiver Support Program continued to offer peer support, guidance, and insight, and even MSK’s Caring Canines continued virtual visits with pediatric patients. Pictured: Mushu, MSK Caring Canine
—Supporting Each Other
Weeks of working 24-7 left frontline workers exhausted. Ricardo Santos, MSK gift shop associate, recalls, “One day a nurse stopped by for coffee. He seemed stressed. I asked how he was, and he replied, ‘very worried.’ I reassured him and said, ‘most importantly, you’re serving others.’ His expression changed immediately. He thanked me and went on his way.”
—Messages of Encouragement
Members of MSK’s Patient and Family Advisory Council for Quality (PFACQ) and the Scarlett Fund at Memorial Sloan Kettering, which raises funds and awareness for pediatric cancer research, teamed up to keep spirits lifted. The groups organized a card drive for children and adults that sent encouraging messages to all employees and patients fighting cancer in the midst of the pandemic.
—Returning to On-Site Care
May 21 marked the return of in-person care for Advanced Practice Providers (APPs) at MSK Monmouth. “We had been taking must-see patients but quickly realized the need to pivot back to regular on-site care,” says Cheryl Barnes, APP manager at MSK Monmouth.
COVID-19 did not stop the next generation of scientists. At a virtual graduation ceremony, Michael Overholtzer, Dean of the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, told graduates, “You wound up teaching us through your research, dedication, and passion.” Graduates also chatted with honorary degree recipient and Nobel Laureate James Allison in a private Zoom session after commencement.
—Raising Funds on the Virtual Stage
When the live show for the important annual fundraiser Comedy vs. Cancer was canceled, organizers virtually staged Saturday Night on Broadway. Theater stars Mandy Gonzalez and Nick Kroll hosted the live Zoom performance on May 16, featuring Steve Martin, Jon Hamm, Ellie Kemper, and more. The event raised $400,000 for MSK research.
—COVID-19, Kids, and Cancer Treatment
MSK Kids researchers found that if children with cancer developed COVID-19, their symptoms were usually mild. “This meant we could continue treating our young patients without heightened concern,” says Andrew Kung, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at MSK Kids. Pictured: Tommie, MSK Kids patient
—Understanding COVID-19 and Cancer
Publishing an important study in Nature Medicine, Chief Medical Epidemiologist Mini Kamboj found that taking chemotherapy did not worsen COVID-19 illness. This reassured patients that they should continue their treatment, even if they got sick with COVID-19. Watch this video to hear Dr. Kamboj describe the lifesaving need for continuing cancer care during a public health crisis, and why MSK is uniquely suited to do so.
—Bringing Care to Patients, Safely and Conveniently
MSK continued innovating to offer world-class cancer care. By late June, two out of every three outpatient appointments were telemedicine visits via computer or smartphone. A survey of our radiation patients published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network found no significant differences in patients’ understanding of and confidence in their treatment.
—No Pause in Progress
MSK was the first institution in the area to fully reopen its research labs after a four-month shutdown. Despite the pandemic, this year the FDA approved seven therapies our scientists helped to develop. In 2020, MSK contributed more than 230 publications related to COVID-19. (Pictured: physician-scientist Michael Glickman)
As COVID-19 restrictions and racial justice demonstrations took hold, employees — especially those working nights — needed to navigate the city safely. MSK expanded the hospital's jitney service and provided documentation allowing workers to be out after curfew. Leslie Ballantyne, Vice President of HR Legal and Regulatory Affairs, says, “We were able to keep going and keep adapting.”
—Adapting Now and for the Future
Telemedicine became a successful tool for clinical trials. “Our goal was to have people come to see us only when they were actually receiving treatment and do checkups through telemedicine,” explains medical oncologist Nitya Raj. The process was so convenient that telemedicine will remain a part of future MSK trials, even after the end of the pandemic.
—Called to Duty
“It was six, eight, nine months of working seven days a week because we needed to for the patients,” says Matthew Matasar, Medical Director of MSK Bergen and a medical oncologist. “And that's exactly what we signed up for. There's a real energy that comes from being called to duty in the midst of a historic crisis.” Watch this video to hear more from Dr. Matasar.
—Running for a Cause
Despite the cancellation of the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon, members of the Fred’s Team community rallied together online on October 29 for a 25th anniversary celebration. Runners like “Team MSK Kids on the Move” took to the streets to run their own marathons. Since 1995, Fred’s Team has raised nearly $90 million for research at MSK.
—Recognizing Excellence in Nursing
On November 23, MSK received Magnet® Recognition by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). This was the second time MSK was recognized by the ANCC for its extraordinary nurses with a record 12 exemplars citing specific achievements. “The appraiser was so overcome with emotion she had to defer to one of the others,” says Elizabeth McCormick, Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer. “When she gathered herself, she said MSK has a nursing culture that other organizations only dream of.”
—Training the Next Generation
In November, 24 undergraduates from the summer's MSK internship programs presented virtually at the national Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students. Five won awards. “We’re dedicated to training future scientists in innovative cancer research,” says radiologist and Director of the Office of Faculty Development Laura Liberman. “Even in the pandemic, we advanced MSK's educational mission.” Pictured: Kathleen Navas, summer student
—Meeting Every Need
For many patients, not having enough food to eat has been another challenge during the pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, MSK's Food to Overcome Outcome Disparities (FOOD) program teamed up with MSK jitney drivers like Eddy Nunez to deliver more than 10,000 bags of groceries to some 600 food-insecure patients and families in New York City.
—Rallying Together on #GivingTuesday
MSK’s extraordinary donors made the 2020 #GivingTuesday digital campaign the most successful yet: More than 2,500 people contributed approximately $500,000, with gifts ranging from $50 to $25,000. That built on the $76,000 that MSK's donor community raised on May 5 for #GivingTuesdayNow, a worldwide emergency campaign in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you'd like to give to MSK, click here.
—Rolling up Sleeves for Vaccines
At last, new hope emerged. In the middle of December, healthcare heroes at MSK rolled up their sleeves to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In the first month, more than 10,000 MSK employees were vaccinated. “This is our chance to set an example and protect our community,” says Chris Choudhry, Director of Environmental Services. “Let’s do this together.” Watch this video to see some of the first healthcare heroes to receive their vaccine at MSK.
Through ingenuity and sheer dedication to saving lives, MSK scientists are making strides to address some of the most pressing challenges in cancer research.
MSK is committed to breaking down barriers and creating a more diverse and inclusive community for all.
Closing the Gap: Making Healthcare Available to All
In her new role as Chief Health Equity Officer, gynecologic cancer surgeon Carol Brown is leading a new commitment to reducing cancer disparities. Dr. Brown spoke with NBC’s Today show anchor Al Roker about raising awareness about these disparities.
Donations to MSK help create breakthroughs that change lives worldwide.
MSK Donors Met the Moment in 2020
Facing unprecedented challenges, our community reimagined how to support one another and our institution, such as moving meetings and events online, and we are grateful for the exceptional commitment and generosity of so many. Thank you to everyone who came together to drive progress and bring hope to people with cancer and their families worldwide. In 2020, MSK received nearly 715,000 donations from 507,000 individuals, families, foundations, and companies who contributed a total of $309,547,924 to advance cancer care, research, and education.