A letter from Peter L. Slavin, MD, President of Massachusetts General Hospital and Timothy G. Ferris, MD, CEO, Massachusetts General Physicians Organization, to Mass General employees.

Dear Colleagues,

We all have watched closely and cautiously as the coronavirus circled the globe, affecting the health and psyches of millions of people, upending daily life and creating upheaval in the global economy. After nearly two months of planning and careful preparations, our hospital last week transitioned into what is likely to be an extended phase of response and implementation as Massachusetts began seeing a rising number of COVID-19 cases. With this transition has come the opportunity to witness firsthand what has long defined Massachusetts General Hospital.

The challenges thrown at us by this unfamiliar and unpredictable pathogen are extensive. Yet, in many ways, we have been here before. During our more than two centuries of delivering care, the MGH has faced a range of crises. And each time our hospital has been there for its patients, its staff, its community, gathering important lessons and building on experiences to apply to the next challenge.

As early as 1849, to control the spread of disease, the MGH constructed a special isolation ward on the grounds near the stately Bulfinch Building. Two years later, during a local outbreak of smallpox, the hospital waged a campaign to “secure all persons in the hospital by vaccination.” During the deadly worldwide 1918 influenza epidemic, MGH leaders were among those who advanced epidemiology and disaster preparedness. Early in World War II surgeon Edward Churchill, MD, led the creation of the hospital’s first formal disaster plan, which included the clearing of a ward to handle a surge of patients—a fortuitous move that saved lives when the hospital received 114 Cocoanut Grove fire victims in 1942. More recently, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing revealed the need to equip people with tools and training for mass casualty events, and tourniquets were part of the answer.

The hospital’s rich legacy of preparedness and response to disaster and crisis is truly inspiring. In each case throughout our history, the women and men of Mass General have risen to the challenge and provided superb care to our patients, their loved ones and our community. And in each case, the hospital emerged from the crisis stronger, more unified, and wiser than before.

These are extraordinary times—times that call for extraordinary people. Without fanfare, you go beyond your job descriptions to keep our patients and their families, visitors, colleagues and community safe; to cope with uncertainty; to represent MGH as a beacon of hope and a temple of healing. Acts of kindness, ingenuity and compassion come second nature to you.

We are proud to call you colleagues. You are the spirit of this place.

Thank you.

Peter L. Slavin, MD, President of Mass General

Timothy G. Ferris, MD, CEO, MGPO