During COVID-19, frontline medical workers have shown us the meaning of courage, determination, and community service.

Jersey City Medical Center staff pose for photo during nurses week. May 8, 2020. (photo: JCMC Facebook)

Life on the Frontlines of a Pandemic

The early months of the COVID-19 pandemic were filled with horror stories about hospitals overwhelmed by the burgeoning public health crisis, something the likes of which many health care professionals had never seen.

When fear caused many people to panic, the dedicated health care workers at Jersey City Medical Center, at considerable risk of becoming infected with the virus themselves, rose to the occasion with great determination, courage and compassion.

Jersey City Medical Center is a regional trauma center, a level III Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Center, and a Regional Heart Hospital with cardiac surgery. Being the county’s only medical center with a myriad of advanced care services still operating, JCMC and every member of its staff have played a significant role in slowing the spread of the virus.

Even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, JCMC was still treating and delivering care for hundreds of non-coronavirus patients. JCMC was one of the only medical centers in the region to quickly adapt their maternity wing to ensure a safer experience for families.

Jersey City Medical Center is also is the only facility of its kind in Hudson County whose emergency department has not gone on divert status during the pandemic.

A sign thanking healthcare workers at Jersey City Medical Center. April 22, 2020. (photo: JCMC Facebook)

One of the “most challenging issues” at the start of the pandemic, according to medical center administrators, was the need to create an understanding in the community that JCMC was and is safe for all patients.

Doctors have speculated that some people in need of medical attention during the pandemic have been too frightened to go to the emergency room, leading to lower numbers of cardiac patients receiving care.

With the goal of encouraging patients to seek the care they need, JCMC staff has pushed strong messages out to the public through social media, press releases, elected officials, and other outlets.

The infection rate at JCMC is, in fact, lower than in the general population. This circumstance can be attributed to great preparedness on the part of medical center staff and strict adherence to CDC guidelines.

Rigorous procedures have been implemented such as faith cards, an advanced air-filtration system, protective shielding, temperature measuring machines and new electronic monitoring equipment so health care professionals can remotely monitor patients.

The staff has redesigned the waiting area with patient safety in mind. Rapid and routine testing is available for all patients and staff. JCMC is also screening for symptoms, taking temperatures at the door and requiring patients and staff to wear masks.

Jersey City Medical Center management worked diligently to counter online rumors and misinformation spreading about COVID-19. JCMC staff were constantly communicating internally, creating virtual town halls and focus groups, and utilizing social media messages to inform and educate the community.

JCMC staff members were learning about the virus even as they were fighting it on the frontlines. Nevertheless, they worked tirelessly to communicate the best up-to-date educational snippets and community health bulletins.

Jersey City Medical Center health care workers welcome patients. June 24, 2020. (photo: JCMC Facebook)

“Within the first few weeks of the pandemic the staff had to immediately react to the most current and evolving information from the CDC, while they continued to deliver care as dedicated professionals, regardless of the fear for their own lives and the risk of exposing their families,” according to CEO and President of JCMC, Michael Prilutsky.

Jersey City Medical Center has not experienced any shortages in beds, personal protective equipment (PPE) or ventilators. At the start of the pandemic, JCMC’s command center took over and was able to manage supplies when there were challenges, never having to make any of the tough choices the Department of Health authorized.

Mr. Prilutsky says there were times when a ventilator would arrive and was used as soon as 2 hours later, but every patient in need of a ventilator was able to receive one. The emergency response team reacted immediately to the issue of patient capacity by expanding the emergency room capacity and ensuring extra supplies of beds.

In the beginning, one of the biggest issues JCMC faced was with testing kits. Test result turnaround times were too long, and this was complicating the ability to manage risk effectively and take on patients. The early tests took about 5–7 days to receive results.

Once JCMC was given rapid testing, administrators and staff were able to coordinate far more effectively. In order to prevent a future shortage, medical center administrators developed guidelines for where and how to use the limited supply of rapid tests, which are often reserved for patients in need of trauma or other emergency room services.

“When we learned about the importance of universal masking to prevent spread from one person to another, we adopted that practice as soon as possible and through masking and social distancing, limiting crowds and other policies, the staff has remained prepared to continue to adapt to new changes and information,” said Dr. Michael Loftus, Chief Medical Officer at Jersey City Medical Center.

To help support the mental health and well-being of its staff, the medical center has a negative pressure room and a Zen zone dedicated to mindfulness, allowing staff to have a moment to relax and re-center. JCMC also offers more formal programs and volunteer programs for stressed staff to connect with one another, or take a moment to pause.

Dr. Loftus took over as Chief Medical Officer just as the pandemic was beginning. He has a strong background in quality safety and managing challenging events, however, which undoubtably helped prepare him for the scope of this crisis. He and Mr. Prilutsky have played an instrumental role in JCMC’s fight against the pandemic, but they didn’t do it alone.

Dr. Loftus says he, “can’t say enough” about the work the hospital staff has done during the pandemic.

“The team here was outstanding. The banner ‘heroes work here’ is outside of our hospital and the embraced motto rings true at JCMC. The team has had remarkable spirit and engaged in remarkable teamwork, we were all in a mindset where we were going to get through this together and continue to provide the best care for our patients. Being a part of this team was a real honor and a privilege. It was a really intense time for healthcare and I couldn’t be prouder.”

The staff at Jersey City Medical Center remained strong and united in their handling of the crisis, creating a working model for any future pandemics or threats to public health.

“During the pandemic, the entire team at Jersey City Medical Center demonstrated their selfless commitment to patient care without a moment of hesitation for their own safety. I witnessed acts of heroism, compassion, innovation, and teamwork that never wavered through our courageous battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Even during the crisis, we never stopped providing life-saving and life-affirming care for the community we serve,” Prilutsky said.

“The pandemic was an overwhelming workload, and everyone came together as a team and did a great job. From nursing staff to physicians to emergency room staff, every health care worker worked extremely hard throughout the tireless hours. Jersey City Medical Center’s health care workers have seen scores of patients throughout the pandemic and have taken the lead on responsibly educating and protecting these patients,” said Dr. Mahmood, an internal medicine specialist affiliated with JCMC.

The Jersey City area is most fortunate in its medical community, and the staff at JCMC are a testament to the enduing quality of the American health care system. The selfless people who work there are a testament to the indomitability of the American spirit.

(Contributing journalist, Allegra Nokaj) (Contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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