Jersey Hospitals on Lessons Learned During First Wave of Covid-19

Medical professionals shared how they were preparing for the pandemic’s second wave, which is now upon us.

Holy Name Medical Center staffers Giuseppe DeFenza, left, and John Economou, right, help Dr. Meredith Wagner don protective equipment prior to intubating a Covid-19 patient. Courtesy of Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center

Hospitals throughout New Jersey were hit hard this year, as physicians, nurses and administrative staff worked tirelessly—and at great personal risk—to get a handle on the best treatments, prevention protocols and innovations to more effectively address the pandemic.

We checked in with several area hospital systems to find out how they were preparing for the second wave of Covid-19 (compounded with flu season). What lessons were learned? Do they finally have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need? And what else is on their wish lists?

At Hackensack Meridian Health, one of the lessons they learned was the need to innovate in response to the pandemic. That included turning a hospital cafeteria into a 74-bed Covid-19 unit in a matter of days. Dr. Daniel Varga, chief physician executive, said Hackensack Meridian was well-prepared for the second wave. “We have at least a 90-day supply of PPE; enhanced staffing ready to activate; and new treatment options through clinical trials, including convalescent plasma therapy,” says Varga. His wish? “That every American would wear a mask so we can truly protect each other and help conquer this global menace.”

At RWJBarnabas Health, Dr. John F. Bonamo, executive vice president and chief medical and quality officer, says one of the biggest lessons learned was the importance of listening and taking cues from frontline workers. It was important to listen to their anxieties and let them serve as a sounding board. “They are truly professionals, with the experience and know-how to guide our decision-making,” says Bonamo. At the same time, Bonamo says it is invaluable to keep frontline workers current on the newest findings and regulations.

[RELATED: Why People of Color Face a Greater Risk of Covid-19 Fatalities]

Dr. Adam Jarrett, executive vice president for medical affairs and chief medical officer at Holy Name Medical Center, notes the speed at which the virus gained strength. “We found ourselves in the epicenter of the pandemic in just the first few weeks of the virus hitting our nation,” says Jarrett. “The biggest lesson we learned was the need for flexibility when dealing with this type of crisis. It’s absolutely crucial that we work together as a team to get the best results.”

Jarrett says in the early days of dealing with Covid-19, hospital staff members realized they had to make clinical decisions with incomplete information and adjust on the fly if needed. Amid the second wave, Jarrett would like to see better access to testing and an unlimited bullpen of staff. 

At Atlantic Health System, Dr. Jan Schwarz-Miller, chief medical and academic officer, says, “The most significant lessons we have learned involve the therapeutic treatment of patients, ranging from the latest antiviral treatments to what are the most effective positions we place a patient in to maximize the effectiveness of oxygen therapy—something called proning.” Schwarz-Miller says this knowledge is decreasing deaths from Covid-19 nationally. 

It is reassuring to know that our hospitals and frontline workers are armed with the learnings from recent months and have been planning ahead to be well-positioned to fight the second wave this fall and winter. 

[Editor’s note: The original print version of this article has been updated for the web to reflect that the second wave of Covid-19 is now upon us.]

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