Taken from NJ.com
March 2, 2021
At 96 years old, Edward J. Miller was defying his age — living alone, cooking his meals, and never missing a Fanwood Veterans Day parade or other veterans’ event. As recently as September, he was steering a boat across a lake in New Hampshire on vacation with his children.
But a bout of low blood pressure sent him to Overlook Medical Center in Summit for 13 days in mid-October. Miller tested positive for the coronavirus the day he was discharged, according to his daughter, Denise Sherwood, who believes he caught the virus at the hospital. He died at home five days later.
Also in October, Mary Ellen Petti, 72, of Green Brook Township was admitted to the seventh floor of Overlook Medical Center so she could get intravenous antibiotics for an infection. Two days later, Petti said, staff told her she had been exposed to COVID-19. Her roommate had been coughing for two days, but she said they told her that wasn’t the problem. She said she tested negative at first but a few days later, another test came back positive.
After five days of remdesivir and other treatments, Petti said she was discharged, but she was back at another hospital a week later with pneumonia and blood clots in her lungs. She said she spent another 10 days in the hospital, 10 days at a rehab center and 10 days staying with her sister before Petti could safely go home alone.
The state Department of Health said it works with local health officials to investigate acute care hospital outbreaks, defined as “two or more epidemiologically-linked patients occurring seven days or more after admission for a non-COVID condition, which would be an indication of in-hospital transmission.”
Since the start of the pandemic, they’ve investigated 28 outbreaks in acute care hospitals, affecting 475 people, both staff and patients, according to Dawn Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health.
“With increased COVID-19 community transmission as well as an increase in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 positive patients, there is greater risk that staff working at a hospital, similar to other members of the public, may be exposed to COVID-19…” Thomas said in a statement Dec. 30. “While the source of transmission may not be known in all scenarios, staff to patient transmission is a potential factor in some outbreaks.”
Hospitals around New Jersey and the country are encouraging people not to delay elective procedures, promoting their infection control procedures. And while it’s important for people not to delay necessary treatments, health officials also acknowledge that when there is a lot of community spread, the risk of catching the virus in a hospital setting is never zero.
Megan Avallone, head of the Westfield Health Department that has jurisdiction in Summit, said she understands how upsetting it is for the families involved, but “to see exposures in any health-care facility is just not uncommon. That’s just what happens when we’re in a pandemic.”
The New Jersey Hospital Association declined requests for comment for this story, but it has been promoting the safety of the state’s hospitals in its “Get Care Now NJ” public awareness campaign, touting best infection control practices including cohorting of infected patients in separate units, staff and visitor screening, and constant cleaning and mask-wearing.
“Our hospitals are taking extraordinary COVID-19 safety precautions to be the centers of safety and care that our communities rely on,” NJHA President and CEO Cathy Bennett said in a press release about a report showing people have been avoiding hospitals in the state since the pandemic.
Sherwood said her father was at Overlook for 13 days without a roommate and had tested negative earlier in his stay. His only visitors tested negative and visitation had been stopped several days before he tested positive, she said. Because of those factors, the family feels confident that he caught COVID-19 from hospital staff despite precautions, and they’re considering a lawsuit.
“Mistakes happen. It’s how you handle them that matters,” she said.