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What has it been like handling the COVID-19 pandemic day to day in a busy hospital? Dr. Adam Jarrett, Chief Medical Officer at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey and co-author of: “In the Time of COVID: One Hospital’s Struggles and Triumphs,” joins Michael Hill to discuss the daily effort to save lives and keep staff safe.
For more on the COVID-19 crisis and how one hospital responded early on, I recently spoke with Dr. Adam Jarrett for NJ Spotlight News. He's Chief Medical Officer at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey and author of: "In the Time of COVID: One Hospital's Struggles and Triumphs."
All right, Dr. Jarrett, let's talk about "In The Time Of COVID" that you have written and I want to talk to you about a phrase that you have in here. You said, after our first confirmed case on March 4th of this year, "When I went home that night, I climbed into bed with my wife, exhausted and for the first time wept, really wept."
Please tell us why.
Well, I was worried about the patients we were taking care of and I was worried about our staff. We knew nothing about this disease. We were very concerned that it was incredibly infectious, which it is. But at that time, we were not confident that normal PPE was going to even protect our staff. We were not confident that we were going to have adequate PPE.
I really had visions in my mind at one point of the hospital staff being so decimated that we were not going to be able to take care of our patients and we'd have patients lined up in hallways. We'd have patients dying, which we did. But I think at that moment it was really about a fear that we were not going to be able to keep up and that our staff were not going to be able to keep up. And that piece of, people that I knew and cared for staff were going to potentially get hurt and die.
The good news is we kept adequate amounts of PPE, but it was a day-to-day struggle and we lost over 250 people, patients at Holy Name, and we lost six to eight people who were part of the Holy Name community and family.
Doctor, I noticed throughout the book your language is blunt. You are very much to the point. And you say at one point in early March, "I made a mistake." What was that mistake?
If I remember correctly, that had to do with bringing the medical staff in the hospital community together so we could learn about this virus, so I set up a meeting for our medical staff and our nurses, and I expected about 50 people to show up and close to 500 people showed up. Now, even at the time of the meeting and even several days later, I did not think of that as a mistake. But as we learned about this virus, we realized that one major thing that we can do to protect each other is to socially distance. And I didn't do that at that meeting, and I regret that.
Doctor, you also write about having a plan,"We had thought that this would be a short term problem that we could handle with only six beds in the emergency department." When did reality tell you otherwise?
Relatively quickly. And I think that, as I personally, and Holy Name, and the entire country was lulled by past events in the world, we experienced SARS, we experienced Ebola, and we just thought, we're not going to have a pandemic. And if we do, we're just not going to have a pandemic. The numbers will be small, and that's literally why we plan for six patients. Literally within five days of our first known patient, we knew that we were going to have a bigger problem and we quickly began to adjust the day-to-day at the hospital to be prepared for that.
The biggest thing we did was build a negative pressure room. Very early on, the CDC was very clear in their guidelines that all testing and all treatment of COVID-19 patients should occur in negative pressure rooms because of concern that the virus would aerosolized. We accepted that and knew that that was going to be a potential issue because most hospitals have 10, 12, 15 negative pressure rooms throughout the pandemic. We built over 275 rooms and we kept our patients in that.
Doctor, right now in the USA, 257,000 deaths due to COVID. Aren't those persuasive enough for people to say, it's time for me to wear a mask? And if not, what will be persuasive?
I think it is persuasive enough, but obviously there are people out there who do not. And I don't understand that. What I have seen is situations where the disease affects people who I will call anti-maskers, and I don't particularly like that term, but I use it in the book, so I'll use it. And I've seen situations where the disease affects people who are anti-maskers, affects their family, and that seems to be what changes their view. And that's unfortunate and that's sad. Put on a mask. You're doing yourself a favor. You're doing the people around you a favor. This disease could not be more real. And we have some very basic things that can make a difference. And it starts with wearing a mask.
Dr. Adam Jarrett is the Chief Medical Officer of Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey, and has just written a book: "In The Time Of COVID." Dr. Jarret, thank you so much.
Michael, take care and stay well.
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