ITHACA, N.Y. — When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put out a call for volunteer medical personnel to help New York City’s overwhelmed hospitals, Cayuga Health System answered.

On Wednesday morning, community members, clad in masks, gathered at Cayuga Medical Center to support two buses of local medical staff who will spend a month working at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. The hospital is run in collaboration with Weill Cornell Medicine, and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Last week the Cayuga Medical Center sent out an email asking for volunteers willing to commit to the 30-day mission in New York City. According to John Turner, Vice President of Public Relations for Cayuga Medical Center, the response was “overwhelming” — everyone from doctors, nurses, and support staff wanted to go down to the city. Along with the personnel help, Cayuga Health System also sent personal protective equipment (PPE) to New York-Presbyterian.

In the month since COVID-19 emerged in the U.S., New York City has become the epicenter of the pandemic. As of Wednesday, the city accounted for over half of the cases in New York State.

Family and friends gave tearful goodbyes as volunteers loaded into the two buses donated by Cornell University. Jeannie Trujillo, a physician’s assistant at CMC, hugged her daughter, Elizabeth, a nursing student, who is one of sixty local medical personnel bound for Manhattan.

“She’s served as an inspiration for me — to want to be a better person, a better human, a better nurse, a better healthcare worker; and it’s just really setting the standard and the bar high,” Trujillo said.

And, some people showed up just for moral support. Nancy Miller, a retired midwife, said, “I’m here today because if I were younger I would be going too.”

Before the big send-off, Cayuga Medical Center CEO Dr. Martin Stallone, Rep. Tom Reed, NY State Senator Tom O’Mara, and Assemblyperson Barbara Lifton spoke in-person at the early morning event. Cornell University President, Martha Pollack, also joined the send-off via Zoom video call. Pollack said she’s talked to healthcare providers in New York City almost every day, and that the hospital will appreciate the volunteers’ help.

“If there’s one good thing about living through extraordinary times, it’s seeing how those times can bring out the extraordinary — and people, people like all of you who are getting on that bus,” Pollack said.

Assemblymember Lifton took a moment to reflect on the severity of the situation and the selflessness of those stepping on the bus.

“Today, I’m sure many of us are feeling that same sense of sadness and worry that we are sending our best into harm’s way. But also superseding those worries, [is] a tremendous sense of admiration and pride and gratitude for their desire to take care of their fellow New Yorkers and support their colleagues in New York City,” she said.

“In every crisis, there are those who run not away from the struggles, but toward it. We normally call those individuals heroes. Today we call them doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals,” Dr. Stallone said. “We are honored to be able to assist our Cornell and New York-Presbyterian friends in their hour of need.”

Videography by Shai Ben-Dor

Produced by Shai Ben-Dor and Michayla Savitt