The “woman who needs no introduction” was thrust from relative obscurity to a national spotlight in a matter of weeks back in 2020 when COVID-19 crashed into New Jersey. Over the past two years the state’s health commissioner was a fixture at the hundreds of state press briefings Gov. Phil Murphy hosted about the pandemic, until the last one earlier this month, which coincided with the lifting of New Jersey’s public health emergency.
Since 2020, the state has seen 1.8 million cases of the virus and Persichilli has helped to navigate its onset; vaccine resistance, mandates and boosters; and new variants. A career nurse, she previously served as the state-appointed monitor to oversee the finances of University Hospital in Newark before heading to the NJDOH.
Under Persichilli’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 raised concerns among 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.
As the state, and the world, attempts to turn to from pandemic to endemic, Persichilli will help to set that path in New Jersey. That includes keeping an eye on the fluctuation of cases worldwide, and having to contend with unaddressed issues that health care executives warn simmered while COVID was at the forefront; and, in the case of mental health care and opioid addiction, have been exacerbated by the pandemic.