HEALTH

NJ hospitals struggle to obtain COVID tests and PPE

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Every clap out celebrating a Covid patient’s discharge brings joy but when Holy Name, a hospital at New Jersey’s COVID-19 epicenter, sent its last coronavirus in-patient home on Friday it left its Covid ward empty. “There was a very significant sigh of relief, particularly amongst the frontline ICU staff, who have really been amazing through this entire thing,” said Dr. Adam Jarrett, chief medical officer at Holy Name Medical Center.

Back in April, Holy Name hospitalized 250 Covid patients in a single day. Today, the state’s 71 acute care hospitals altogether counted about 870 Covid patients, compared to 8,000 statewide at the pandemic’s height. New Jersey has flattened the curve but as Covid now ravages the Sun Belt states it is impacting New Jersey’s ability to prepare for a second surge, according to Holy Name’s Adam Jarrett. “The pain they’re feeling in the rest of the country is very similar to what we were feeling several months ago. And I think with that in mind we need to be prepared. So we are stocking up on PPE. We are doing everything we can do to stock up on reagents for testing, though that is still a challenge. We don’t really have adequate testing, if we got hit by another surge. And no one does.”

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said, “given the rapid rise of cases in other parts of the country, the testing capacity infrastructure is being stressed. Our average turnaround time is now more than five days when previously it had been two to four.” And the battle for supplies goes beyond testing. Holy Name uses top-rated N95 masks for Covid patient encounters. But they’ll burn through masks, gowns more quickly during a surge. “In terms of supplies of PPE – the reality is, we’ll never have enough,” continued Dr. Jarrett.

Governor Murphy added “we still don’t have the PPE we need as a country or a state, just a fact.  We are working to lay out protocols of what we expect going forward – how many days supplies whether you’re a long term care facility or a hospital.”

NJ’s hospital association did set a target. President & CEO Cathy Bennett said “they’re stocking up with a goal of hitting a 90-day supply on hand. They’re stocking up with that 90-day goal – recognizing the burn rate is going to greater than it is in non-Covid times.

University Hospital in Newark currently has got four Covid patients, down from 300 during peak crisis. Back then, Governor Murphy and emergency officials desperately scrambled to bid on medical supplies. Now? CEO Shereef Elnahal says, they’re as ready as they can be, “we now have over 60 days’ worth of PPE at University Hospital, that’s a result of continuing vigilantly to source as much as possible. Again, the absence of a national strategy to coordinate the supply chain and make sure there’s enough to go around across the country, that’s been really troubling, the fact that we don’t have one.”

Meanwhile, amongst Atlantic Health’s five hospitals, they’re down to 30 Covid patients from 900 at the pandemic’s height. They’re stockpiling but also hoping residents will continue to mask up and social distance. Dr. Steve Sheris, President of the Atlantic Medical Group added, “This second wave or second surge is in no way inevitable, in our opinion if the citizens of New Jersey do what they have been doing.”

The virus is everywhere.  Holy Name’s Covid ward is no longer empty: it admitted four more patients over the weekend.