HPAE President Debbie White interviewed in NJ Spotlight about rising COVID-19 census
“With cases rising, NJ hospitals prepare for what’s ahead”
Taken from NJSpotlight
October 21, 2020
No one anticipates the same surge of patients that flooded hospitals last spring, but health care leaders in New Jersey said they are taking steps to ensure proper resources are in place to care for rising numbers of coronavirus cases in the months to come.
State government and hospital officials said they have stockpiled months’ worth of masks, gowns and gloves — the critical personal protective equipment, or PPE, that was in short supply early in the pandemic — and are amassing medications to treat COVID-19 patients. Some acute-care facilities are signing advance contracts with staffing agencies in case they need to supplement their existing workforce.
“Health care providers are taking the potential for a second wave very seriously. It’s been a looming concern ever since the very beginning of the pandemic,” said Kerry McKean Kelly, vice president of communications for the New Jersey Hospital Association, which represents the state’s 71 acute-care facilities, some of which were nearly overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases six months ago.
“The good news is, the health care system is better prepared today than we were when the first (coronavirus) case arrived in New Jersey in March,” McKean Kelly said. “We have a good playbook that was largely written by those clinical teams on the front lines in New Jersey.”
There have been significant advances in COVID-19 treatment — resulting in better outcomes, including lower mortality — and other lessons learned. But state and health care officials say preparations are not foolproof. The biggest worry is sufficient staffing, especially given a long-standing nursing shortage.
“We definitely are concerned,” said Debbie White, president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees, a union for thousands of nurses and other frontline caregivers statewide. “We’ve always heard, ‘We can’t afford to staff for ‘what ifs.’ I get that, but we’re in a pandemic now, so who do you have on hand?” White said.
Dr. Daniel Varga, chief physician executive with Hackensack Meridian Health, said he is worried not just about staffing levels, but about workers’ ability to emotionally withstand another surge.
“There’s a brittleness in the workforce we have today. They’ve been through hell and back,” he said, noting that the Hackensack Meridian system — one of the state’s largest — lost 20 frontline workers to the virus. “There’s a lot of PTSD out there,” Varga said, “so it’s both numbers and resiliency.”