NEW JERSEY - Looking to answer questions and seeing a "bright light" at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, New Jersey healthcare leaders spoke about how they've dealt with the pandemic while offering hope for the future, at a virtual event held by TAPinto on Thursday evening.

The first-ever TAPinto signature virtual event on Jan. 14 featured five health care experts, including doctors and administrators, who offered their review of the pandemic and what lies ahead. Communications consultant Bruno Tedeschi moderated the discussion, followed by a Q&A session with the panel.  The event was presented by Atlantic Health System and generously supported by Bergen New Bridge Medical Center,  Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New JerseyPrime Healthcare of New JerseyRWJBarnabas Health, and Trinitas Regional Medical Center.  

"We need to take care of ourselves now," said Dr. Eric Perez, Chief Medical Officer at Atlantic Health System’s Chilton Medical Center.

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Dr. Perez described the "emotional and physical roller coaster" the public, as well as medical professionals, have navigated.

"We're busy," he said of hospital intake, "but we're more than capable of taking care of everyone, whether it's COVID or cancer. You shouldn't stay away."

Dr. Michele Cholankeril, Division Chief of Hematology/Medical Oncology at Trinitas Regional Medical Center, said, "We were doing things beginning in March 2020 that we were not trained to do...this was new to us."

Dr. Cholankeril credits COVID therapy trials and the vaccine for making patient care better, especially for doctors and nurses.

"We're now more prepared to walk into COVID-19 patients' rooms," she said, in an effort to treat people more quickly and more successfully.

Lori Colineri, Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Central and Southern Region for RWJBarnabas Health, called the medical community's response to COVID-19 "Herculean."

"Teams of medical people came together, and while this took time, it forced us to be nimble as things changed and our understanding of the virus changed," she said.

Colineri's hospital system went from eight patients on March 13 to more than 1,000 two weeks later.

"Fast forward, the cases are now far less acute," she said. "We're catching cases earlier, keeping them out of the ICU, and getting them out of the hospital earlier."

Deborah Visconi, President and Chief Executive Officer of Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, explained her challenges and triumphs as the largest hospital in the state located in Paramus (Bergen County). There is an emergency unit where COVID is treated, a behavioral health unit, a substance abuse unit and a nursing home.

"We changed and pivoted quickly," Visconi said. "We never closed our doors to our behavioral health and substance abuse units."

The head of Bergen New Bridge Medical Center said she sees the bright light at the end of the COVID tunnel through a "trifecta" of remedies.

"Tests, tests, tests, we all need to test often," she said. "Vaccinate when it's your turn, and manage your health. See your primary care doctor, get routine screenings. It's not safe to not take care of yourself."

Dr. Don Liss, Chief Medical Officer at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, said teleheath has emerged as an effective tool, during the pandemic and going forward.

"Healthcare struggled mightily during this time, with people finding it almost impossible to see their doctors in-person," Dr. Liss said. "Horizon is committed to care, without barriers."

View the panel discussion:



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