“The woman who needs no introduction” has been a key feature at the almost daily press conferences Gov. Phil Murphy and other top state health officials hold to update the public on just where things stand with the pandemic.
Whether the issue is vaccines, hospital capacity, the status of the state’s health care infrastructure or COVID-19 business restrictions, the state’s health commissioner has been a key player in the New Jersey’s pandemic response and to a large extent, one of the faces of those efforts.
A career nurse, Persichilli previously served as the state-appointed monitor to oversee the finances and other housekeeping of the troubled University Hospital in Newark. She essentially swapped places with Shereef Elnahal, who left his post as health commissioner to become University Hospital’s chief executive officer.
The seas were calm when her appointment was announced in June 2019. Now, her department serves as a focal point for the state’s hospitals that have handled the brunt of the pandemic. Hospitalizations surged to over 8,000 COVID-19 patients at the height of the first wave, and currently thousands of people are hospitalized due to the virus.
Under Perscihilli’s watch the state’s health care industry was repurposed to deal with the public health emergency.
That included a three-month ban on elective surgeries, which has drawn the ire of the business community and stoked concerns from medical professionals. And it meant the dramatic expansion of bed capacity and a desperately needed supply of ventilators, masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment.
In the months to come, Persichilli will play a key role in orchestrating the delivery of vaccine doses into the arms of millions of New Jerseyans by the fall. The state’s economy depends on the success of that project.