As New York hospitals grapple with mounting cases of coronavirus infection, a leader in the hospitals’ efforts has a blunt message: self-isolation is “unbelievably important” for stopping the virus’ rampant spread.

“It’s one of the best preventative ways to try and stop the transmission. That’s been demonstrated not only here but everywhere else,” said Michael Dowling, GSS ’74, in an interview with IrishCentral posted March 25, as hospitals were facing increasingly dire conditions because of the influx of patients.

It was one of many recent media appearances related to Dowling’s new role as co-leader of a statewide council tasked with expanding hospital capacity to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Dowling has long played a prominent role in New York healthcare as president and CEO of Northwell Health, the state’s largest health system, comprising 23 hospitals and more than 750 outpatient facilities. He took the helm at Northwell in 2002 after a long career in state government, in the healthcare industry, and on staff at Fordham, where today he serves on the Board of Trustees.

In another interview, Dowling emphasized New York hospitals’ ability to accommodate more patients but also acknowledged the unknowns, like the eventual number of patients afflicted with COVID-19—the disease caused by the novel coronavirus—and the availability of supplies like masks, gloves, and gowns for hospital workers.

“We’re working unbelievably hard to make sure that we access as much supply as we possibly can,” he told WCBS Newsradio 880 in New York City in a March 17 interview.

Dowling joined the council on March 16 at the request of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a 1979 graduate of Fordham College at Rose Hill. Cuomo is “driving the ship in a big, big way, and he’s looking at every possibility,” Dowling told WCBS. “So nothing is off the table here.”

Communicating in a Crisis

Dowling stressed the need to be “creative and adaptable” during a crisis in an interview with HealthLeaders, posted March 25, about his approach to running Northwell Health. Also key to his leadership style, he said, is communication. “You’ve got to be calm. You have to be upbeat. You must also give people data,” he said.

In December, Northwell Health entered into an agreement with Fordham to develop new programs to train health professionals. And Northwell’s research arm is taking part in three clinical trials for drugs to treat COVID-19.

While the trials offer hope, he stressed the importance of the public’s behavior. “If they’re not compliant with the public policies, then we’re going to prolong [the pandemic] longer than we should,” he told HealthLeaders.

Dowling is co-leading the council with Kenneth E. Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association and himself the father of a 2008 Fordham graduate, and also working with New York State Commissioner of Health Howard A. Zucker, M.D., a 2000 graduate of the Fordham School of Law.

Here are four things to know about Dowling’s life and career:

He’s no stranger to challenges. Dowling grew up in rural Ireland, the oldest of five children, in a home with mud walls and a thatched roof and without electricity, heat, or running water. He helped support his family and raise money for college by working summers on the New York City docks starting at age 17.

He held leadership roles at Fordham. After graduating from University College Cork, he returned to New York to earn a master’s degree in social work at the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS) in 1974. Five years later he joined the Fordham faculty, serving as a professor of social policy, assistant dean of GSS, and director of the Westchester campus.

He held leadership roles in state government. Dowling spent 12 years in New York government, including seven years as state director of health, education, and human services and deputy secretary to the governor.

He remembers his roots. Every year, Dowling brings 20 students from Ireland to gain work experience at Northwell. The company gives employees tuition reimbursement for attending college, and Dowling is known for making time to meet new employees every Monday morning.



Chris Gosier is research news director for Fordham Now. He can be reached at (646) 312-8267 or [email protected].