NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital
SW: As one of the leaders on the front lines of this COVID-19 pandemic, how would you describe its impact ?
GL: Steve, Every generation throughout history seems to experience some major challenge or upheaval and I would say this is
the test of our generation. For me, this comes reasonably late in life in my sixties. So, the test for all of us and especially those of
us in leadership, is if we can find a way to properly respond recognizing that we do not know how this story will end. Can we find
a way individually and collectively to respond to a situation where there is no roadmap and still try to make intelligent decisions,
but if we make mistakes and we will to admit them, correct them and then redirect our effort toward rebuilding not necessarily to
the way things useD to be but back up to something better going forward. The other question is whether we are ready to make
the sacrifices large and small like wearing a mask and social distancing as an example.
SW: In other words, can we stay the course even though we may make mistakes along the way?
GL: Yes, I have made mistakes. For one, I underestimated the impact of COVID early on. Yes, we had preparedness discussions and we were starting to make
plans. However, In early March, I did not imagine that we would quickly find ourselves as the epicenter of this pandemic and Patient Zero would come from
Westchester and then spread rapidly.
SW: Once you realized what you were facing, how did you move forward?
GL: You realize you do what you have to do! You try to make intelligent choices and find some balance. You also have to try and create an emotional safety valve
for people. In my case, it was keeping the parks open and the beaches. This is one of the few areas I still have some control over as the State has the ultimate
authority to direct most other government activities in this emergency. However, you must also be prepared to shift your position based on new realities. You cannot
allow yourself to get attached to a particular ideology. You have to adapt and adjust your thinking and decisions based on new evidence as it comes in.
SW: As we are conducting this interview, Westchester and NY State are in the beginning of the reopening phase having at least for now flattened the curve of the
pandemic and starting to see a significant decrease in new cases and hospitalizations. How do you see things rolling out going forward?
GL: Phase 1 is starting and that is best described as the return of blue collar jobs going back to work and small manufacturing: Plumbers. Carpenters, Landscapers
etc. As of June 9, if all goes well, retail will start to re-open and next corporate offices will start back. All of these will have to adhere to state safety mandates and
develop and submit their own plans for reopening safely. Phase 3 will mean restaurants can start to resume full operation but with limited capacity. However, towns
and villages across the county are trying to creatively work with the restaurants and hospitality venues to create outside seating opportunities to help offset the loss
of inside seating. There will be other measures like safety shields and temperature checks and masks on workers, etc.
Next will come Phase 4 which will be some concerts in the park and other programs, but still no large gatherings. If then we see no big spikes and I don’t think we
will if we are careful, then July and August could be better and feel more like the new normal. Realistically though, we are not out of the woods until there is a vaccine or some viral control to allow us to function without putting ourselves at an extraordinary risk.
SW: What about the economic impact on Westchester County?
GL: At this point we are about $120 million dollars off out of a $2.1 billion dollar budget. Before this is behind us I expect we could see another $40-50 million dollars of negative impact. We already have a plan in place to offset $20 million through cost savings and maybe could come up with another $40-60 million more in
cuts that would not result in layoffs or significant cuts in services to our residents. Our last option would include a voluntary separation plan and then this would be
followed by furloughs and layoffs. People do not realize the significant role public service workers play in our lives until they are not there anymore. We had some
huge unanticipated expenditures in terms of our health department stepping up, taking Glen Island and the County Center out of service. We are also looking at
delaying some capital projects and advancing the sale of some assets we still control. These are one shots but we may have to try all or some of these to offset the
impact of this pandemic.
This is clearly not what I had in mind when I came into office. I had a lot of plans to generate revenues for the County and really bring our budget into line
and build up our reserves that had been depleted. However, that is not
my new reality and I must adjust to our new situation and try and rebuild
our economy as best I can recognizing it will probably fall to my successor to launch the big new initiatives when the Westchester economy is
stabilized and growing again.
SW: Are you still optimistic about the future?
GL: Yes, I am lucky to be surrounded with some very good and capable
people who have skills and talents I do not have. I have strengths in
some areas but I depend on others on my team to guide me as well. I
believe if we can face the challenges ahead together and we can stay
the course making the necessary adjustments along the way, then when
this pandemic is behind us, we will have the chance for a new normal
that will be different but may even be better in the long run. Those new
opportunities may fall to someone else sitting in this seat in the future,
but I am comfortable with what I have to do now and I feel confident that
we will get through this.
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