Over the last few months, medical professionals across the country have demonstrated incredible bravery, professionalism, resilience, and compassion as COVID-19 tore through our hospitals and our communities, completely upending our way of life. Here in New Jersey, we saw one of the country’s highest rates of impact, and we responded in ways that tremendously inspired me. I am profoundly grateful to all of my colleagues – both within and outside our system.
As the pandemic evolved, our facilities took bold steps to focus on treating a surge of COVID-19 patients and obtaining critical medical supplies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. Like many health providers, we responded by expanding our inpatient capacity, particularly in critical care areas, and limiting other services, including elective procedures and surgeries.
Fortunately, the peak of this horrific pandemic is now behind us. We are moving forward in a thoughtful and structured way to continue to safely and reliably serve our communities and care for our patients. Our decision to resume elective procedures and gradually begin to reopen other hospital services in the next days and weeks will be done using best practices, with the safety of our patients and colleagues at the forefront.
Our move to reopen services is necessary as many community members have been deferring medical care because of their fears of contracting the virus. Patients continue to have ongoing healthcare needs; many individuals, who have had medically necessary surgeries and procedural care postponed due to the pandemic, can no longer delay without adverse impacts or outcomes.
As a high-reliability organization, safety is embedded in everything we do. We are taking all appropriate precautions to continue to ensure the highest quality of care, protection, support and comfort for all our patients including screening all patients, visitors and staff for COVID-19 symptoms, conducting a temperature check upon entrance to all facilities, masking and maintaining social distance guidelines.
We will remain vigilant and maintain strict adherence to recommended guidelines and transmission precautions with all patients, including COVID-19 positive and non-COVID patients.
Every day we learn more about this virus and we are proud to be contributing to the knowledge. Through our partnership with Rutgers University, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick is participating in an important research study titled, “SARS-CoV-2 Prevalence and Risk Factors among Healthcare Workers Leveraging Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Employee Screening Data.”
The study, conducted through the Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science and the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, examines infection through saliva and blood tests among healthcare workers at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. This study provides an opportunity for staff at the hospital to be COVID -19 tested and determine existence of antibodies.
Throughout this pandemic we have learned several important and critical lessons. With each lesson, our approach to patient care and safety will continue to evolve. Two critical lessons we learned or were reinforced from the pandemic stand out.
First, medical supplies are essential and should be manufactured in the United States to ensure access and adequate supplies. Lack of and access to PPE jeopardizes the health and well-being of our employees, our patients, and our communities.
Another lesson is that the devastating impact of the pandemic on vulnerable communities is drastically worse than in others, and the damage mirrors those communities already suffering from the greatest social inequities. The coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout affecting millions of citizens in record time have accelerated this conversation: Adverse social determinants of health—lack of adequate housing, jobs, access to affordable healthy food, economic stability and educational attainment—are social inequities directly linked to health inequities and are playing a large role in the disproportionate rates of the virus in communities of color.
Hospitals and health systems are anchor institutions that serve as economic engines in our local communities. We are some of the largest employers and purchasers in many communities in need of an economic boost. We can and should leverage our purchasing power to invest in current and new local manufacturers. Now more than ever, health leaders need to act to address and reverse health inequities.
In the coming weeks, RWJBarnabas Health will continue to collaborate with and adhere to guidance from state and local health officials. Our priority continues to be the health and safety of our healthcare workers and patients. Each of our facilities will determine in the coming days and weeks when they will reopen non-COVID services.
Together, we have stayed strong throughout this terrible pandemic. We have emerged even better prepared in the event of a second wave. Our lives have been disrupted and simple joys, which we once took for granted, now have new meaning.
We will not soon forget the lessons we have learned from this experience. COVID-19 has given us a greater awareness of our own collective strength and our deep love for our communities. We will take from it a better way forward.
Barry Ostrowsky is president and chief executive officer of RWJBarnabas Health.