On the front line for COVID

NJMS and University Hospital Prepare for a Surge of COVID-19 Patients

As the imminent COVID-19 pandemic approached New Jersey, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) and University Hospital (UH) sprang into a massive preparedness effort.

“We saw what was happening in China and Italy, so we had the luxury of starting our efforts early,” said Mark H. Einstein, M.D., M.S., interim chief medical officer for University Hospital and department chair of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive health at NJMS. “We put together a surge governance with multiple workgroups tied together with an incident command center.”

The hospital has totally changed and transformed overnight. To build hospital capacity to meet the surge of COVID-10 patients, UH prepared early by cancelling elective surgeries and procedures and rescheduling ambulatory well visits before the executive order was released by Governor Phil Murphy.

The hospital redesigned new units and spaces to house COVID-19 patients, including setting up several tents outside the Emergency Department to triage and screen patients with respiratory symptoms.

“We are redesigning new units and spaces as we go,” said Debra Chew, M.D., assistant professor, department of medicine, NJMS division of infectious disease. She added that a lot of efforts are directed at training staff in the care of COVID patients, including respiratory care and the use of personal protective equipment. “We must ensure our health care workers are safe and protected as they continue to treat patients.”

The national shortage of masks, gloves, medications, laboratory supplies and ventilators is a concern, Chew noted, but the staff is meeting the challenge. “We’re tracking the usage very closely, and we’re doing the best to conserve these resources.”

The novel 45-minute COVID-19 test developed by David Alland, MD, MSc., director of the NJMS Public Health Research Institute is a huge help, she added.

The surge is happening right now, and the hospital staff is handling it. “As of right now we are greatly increasing our in-house COVID numbers daily,” said Einstein. “We are working around the clock, and we are doing everything we can to save lives.” All areas of the medical school are being mobilized. “From podiatry to OB/GYN residents, everyone is recruited to be on the COVID-19 teams. It is overwhelming and humbling to see everyone so ready to help.”

Chew also commended the personnel’s dedication and readiness to assist. “It's a very difficult and unprecedented time right now, and I’m very inspired by our teams and our staff. It is so moving to see people work so hard every day to help the critically ill patients recover.”