Facing coronavirus surge, NJ retrofits closed hospitals

Professor Sarah Allred’s study for Rutgers Rand Institute predicts a flood of coronavirus patients could overwhelm New Jersey’s 71 hospitals, like Holy Name Medical Center which sits at the treatment epicenter of Bergen County’s outbreak. In Allred’s worst-case scenario more than 300,000 people would not get a hospital bed if the virus spreads unchecked across New Jersey.

“Suggesting that there will be six to 17 people who need a bed for every bed that’s available,” Allred said.

“And as cases increase, we know the pressure on the hospital system grows exponentially,” said New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli on Tuesday.

New Jersey’s got 2,000 available critical care beds, but the New Jersey Department of Health predicts it will need 2,000 more — 10% of them requiring ventilators just within the next couple weeks, according to Gov. Phil Murphy.

He sent an urgent letter to President Donald Trump warning “… doctors and health care employees in New Jersey may be forced to make the agonizing decisions that the world has seen in Northern Italy — they will have no choice but to deny lifesaving care, including ventilators, to those in need of it.”

Murphy asked for help and Wednesday said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers replied immediately and will meet to discuss expanding hospital capacity in New Jersey.

The state’s health commissioner is pushing to quickly retrofit closed hospital facilities.

“The department is talking with several CEOs about the possibility of opening up eight currently-closed, acute care hospitals that have been closed within the past several years,” Persichilli said.

Persichilli said 260 extra beds can be brought online now, with an extra 227 more in the next few weeks. Inspira in Woodbury could add an extra 300. One hospital in northern Jersey could make a quick turnaround, according to the hospital association’s CEO.

“It brings 40 beds together with it. So that’s one way to do it. Another way to do it is to look, as the commissioner said, at hospitals that have recently closed. And that opens the door for the Inspira facility down in Woodbury, for example,” said Cathleen Bennett, president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association.

But hospital executives warn they’ll need more frontline health care workers to staff those extra rooms. And they’ll need a lot more personal protection equipment — a supply pipeline that’s currently close to empty.