MANAHAWKIN, NJ – Yesterday’s virtual meeting of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business Roundtable featured two executives from the Southern Ocean Medical Center. Michele Morrison, Chief Hospital Executive at Southern Ocean Medical Center, and Jim Young, Executive Director of the Southern Ocean Medical Center Foundation provided an update concerning the local facility.

“We are down to seven positive COVID patients,” shared Morrison. “We reached our peak around April 12th here at the hospital.  At that time, we had upwards of 46 positive COVID-19 patients admitted on that date.”

In the last nine to ten weeks, 215 positive COVID-19 patients were admitted to the hospital.  Of that number, 155 patients were discharged to their homes.

Sign Up for Barnegat/Waretown Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Morrison credited the hospital’s affiliation with Hackensack Meridian with providing resources and expertise in the battle against COVID-19. Southern Ocean was also able to obtain supplies that were not easily available to other medical facilities.

“I was on telephone conversations daily with the CEOs of hospitals to the south of us,” said Morrison. “The level of personal protective equipment they had available to them was far less than we had available here.”

According to Morrison, only a few team members of the Southern Ocean Medical Center’s team contracted COVID-19 related to work exposure. Staff are swabbed once a week even if they show no symptoms. The hospital also performed antibodies testing on employees and found that an exceptionally low number came back positive.

Morrison said that the low number of positive COVID-19 and antibodies tests was causally related to the accessibility to PPEs. The hospital also instituted several safeguards, starting with screening team member temperatures. Anyone who registers over a 100° is sent home and goes through a process with the hospital’s occupational health department.

Early in May, the hospital decided to monitor the temperatures of everyone who enters the hospital, including, out-patients and vendors.

Approximately two weeks ago, the hospital reopened out-patient services, including off-site locations in Forked River and Little Egg Harbor. In doing so, South Ocean created a virtual waiting room that allows out-patients to register by a special phone number. Patients are asked to remain in their vehicles until called to come in. Someone meets the patients at the door and first takes their temperature. Patients are then escorted directly to their treatment or diagnostic testing area and discharged from there.

“I think it’s much more comfortable for our community to wait in their vehicles,” said Morrison. “This way they are not feeling at risk when they come into the hospital.”

Prior to COVID-19, Southern Ocean’s Emergency Room already segregated patients who were sick with contagious diseases. The hospital has enhanced efforts to keep positive COVID patients apart from others.  Patients admitted for COVID-19 are also separated. With just seven positive cases, there is currently only one COVID unit at the hospital.

“On Tuesday, we will be going live again with elective surgeries,” Morrison stated. “For the last nine weeks, we’ve only been able to do emergent surgeries.”

Visitation restrictions continue, although women in labor are permitted one support person with them during labor and delivery. Additionally, patients who are dying, have been on hospice or have experienced a significant change in status may visit with two family members at a time.  Despite visitation rules, the hospital has a policy ensuring no patient dies alone.

“As you can imagine, this has been very emotional for our team here,” said Morrison. “We have shared so many tears over the last nine weeks as we’ve lived through this pandemic.”

“They’ve been tears of sadness as we’ve lost patients, and we’ve sat with them, continued Morrison, “We’ve held their hands and had their family members on Facetime.”

Hospital staff have also shared tears of happiness as they line the halls to celebrate discharges of COVID patients. They announce the discharges and clap in honor of the patient leaving the hospital.

Young thanked the Chamber for its support of the hospital, and the generosity of many of its members. Some not only gave financially but contributed gifts of food as far as dinners and lunches for staff members. Others donated iPads to help patients communicate with their families.

 The conversion of 81 regular rooms to negative pressure rooms was done by philanthropy. The hospital received donations of PPEs.

“It’s really overwhelming what this great community that we live and work in has done for us,” said Young, as he reflected to the building of the Emergency Room and Superstorm Sandy.

Although Southern Ocean Medical is associated with Hackensack Meridian, all donations are assigned to the local facility. Anyone who would like to make a gift to the hospital may do so at this link.

In 2010, Southern Ocean County Hospital changed its name to Southern Ocean Medical Center. Notwithstanding, locals still refer to the 176-bed hospital as SOCH, referring to its former acronym.