NJ field hospitals will take COVID-19 patients as state preps for surge

Gov. Phil Murphy and Sen. Cory Booker toured a 500-bed field hospital at the New Jersey Convention and Expo Center in Edison. The center is equipped by FEMA to handle patient overflow during an expected surge in COVID-19 infections.  It’s the state’s second pop-up medical station — the first one in Secaucus is already staffed, and hopes on Wednesday to admit 20 to 25 patients.

New Jersey officials had pushed for federal permission to also treat COVID-19 patients at the facilities and finally got it, according to University Hospital CEO Dr. Shereef Elnahal.

“There were some issues in getting that designation but we finally did,” Elnahal said. “We got word last night that they’re going to accept coronavirus patients and we are helping, as University Hospital, coordinate the transfer of those patients not just from our hospital, but from really every northern region hospital really feeling a surge of coronavirus patients right now.”

Elnahal says it will relieve pressure on hospitals crowded with critically-ill COVID-19 patients when the pop-ups take coronavirus patients on the mend, who perhaps require oxygen and IV fluids but not ventilators.

“Especially those who are getting better, or convalescing. That’s the ideal type of patient for that field hospital to take and we’re going to help coordinate that,” he said.

New Jersey’s Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli plans for a mix of patients at the field hospitals, which will ultimately number 1,000 beds at convention centers in Secaucus, Edison and Atlantic City.

“Some of them will be COVID-19 positive, some will not. They will all be low-acuity medical surgical patients that need a certain level of care that can be safely given in a field hospital, or in East Orange, or some of our other hospitals that we’re opening up — and probably for a length of stay of up to five days,” Persichilli said.

Jersey hospitals will get more relief when the Army Corp renovates East Orange General Hospital’s East Pavilion. It has 250 beds and the Army Corps of Engineers says it will be operational within two weeks. It’s part of the state’s scramble to rehab shuttered hospitals and wings statewide to meet the demand for coronavirus beds. Admissions will be based on six medical tiers, starting with intensive care.

“Then we have medical-surgical, high acuity. They will be appropriate for a hospital like East Orange, and to be followed by a hospital we will be bringing up in Woodbury,” Persichill said.

As for field hospitals, the governor issued a call for paid staff positions, including chief medical officers. Prepping the facilities for COVID-19 patients should not require extra construction, noted State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan.

“We don’t need negative pressure rooms. I think there was a lot of discussion about the build out would be a lot larger. We needed beds almost immediately, and I think being creative and being smart we’ll be able to house house COVID patients,” he said.

The field hospital in Edison will start onboarding staff Thursday and will admit its first patients Saturday. The Atlantic City facility’s expected to open in mid-April.