Area hospitals do their best to meet demands of COVID-19

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UNION COUNTY — COVID-19 has turned everything upside down. Even though New Jersey has seen some signs of flattening the curve this past week, the death toll continues to rise, as people of all ages have been sick and thousands have died from the virus. The goal is to flatten the curve in this country and one sign of the curve flattening, or plateauing, is the lower number of patients being admitted to hospitals.

One question comes to mind. How are the hospitals doing in the face of the new coronavirus?

LocalSource spoke with personnel at two hospitals in the Union County area that are dealing with the COVID-19 storm; they talked about what they’ve been receiving from the community, what kinds of things they need at this time and how they’re doing regarding bed space and staff numbers.

Trinitas Regional Medical Center, located in Elizabeth, is one of many hospitals doing its best while saving lives.

“Overall, we’re holding our own, but day to day we can experience staffing issues and selected shortages of personal equipment,” Trinitas Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations Doug Harris told LocalSource on April 10. “Thankfully, many of the donations we are receiving from the community are masks and gowns. We’re seeing a steadily increasing number of COVID-19–positive patients, especially last week. While our number of admissions is increasing, so too is our number of successful discharges. We are OK with our supply of ventilators and other equipment.”

According to Harris, Trinitas is taking extra measures to accommodate COVID-19 patients and staff members.

“Over a month ago, we activated our Emergency Command Center, staffed by senior administration, safety and infection-prevention personnel. Meetings and institutionwide conference calls are held nearly constantly to address the many issues that arise,” Harris said. “Just one example of the many issues that need to be addressed was the need to replace our oxygen-delivery system, since we are running so many ventilators. Our facilities and respiratory staffs worked with our vendor to keep the oxygen flowing while we installed larger equipment that could handle the load. Our switchover to the new system took place yesterday, and it was seamless.

“Innovation is ruling the day here. We took over our same-day surgery unit and converted it into an extra intensive care unit. In addition, we moved staff from a formerly closed nursing unit to make way for additional medical/surgical patients, if needed,” Harris said, adding that this move also isolates the COVID-19 patients from the main Emergency Room. “We must commend our fantastic staff. The word ‘hero’ has been very overused recently, but there is no better word to describe the staff who leave their families at home and come to Trinitas to care for the sick. They are true to their calling and to the mission of Trinitas.”

One thing Harris wanted to make clear was Trinitas’ appreciation of the community.
“We are awed by the support of the community. Every hour of every day, someone arrives with food, protective gear or just written notes of support. Earlier this week, the Elizabeth Fire Department staged a salute on our campus, where they sounded their sirens at a set time. It was beautiful, but we were totally unprepared for the 30 or so community residents who lined up their vehicles and made a parade in front of our main entrance, blowing their horns and holding signs of support. You can’t imagine the lift that gave our staff,” Harris said.

Located in Rahway, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Rahway is also dealing with numerous patients affected by the virus.

“All hospitals are challenged daily by the pandemic, particularly in the areas of personal protective equipment, critical care beds, ventilators, medications and staffing,” specifically nurses, respiratory therapists, phlebotomists and cleaning staff, RWJ University Director of Marketing and Community Education Donna Mancuso told LocalSource on April 13. “We have converted areas of the hospital to help meet the surge and are recruiting additional help. Our staff continues to be truly outstanding, caring for our patients and discharging them back to home, thanks, in large part, to their tireless efforts in providing exceptional care at great personal risk. They are true heroes.”

In terms of what RWJ University needs, it’s the same for all hospitals across the state.

“We are in need of personal protective equipment, especially isolation gowns,” Mancuso said. “Certain drugs are in short supply. We could use more iPads to help with patient/family communication. Ventilators are needed, as are critical care beds. Our plant-services

department is doing a great job creating more negative-pressure rooms to ensure safe care.”

In addition to having the same needs, hospitals across New Jersey are sharing in the adoration from the community.

“The outpouring of community support has been overwhelming and heartwarming,” Mancuso said. “We have received countless meals for all shifts, hand-sewn masks, donations of PPE, plus handmade cards, posters, banners, signs in windows and other signs of support. We’ve received hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout cookies, as well as baked treats. We so appreciate the community’s support during this difficult and challenging time.”

Photos Courtesy of Donna Mancuso and Doug Harris

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