NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – As if there was doubt after the state announced that new COVID-19 cases had surpassed 1,000 for the 10th straight day, the head of Saint Peter’s University Hospital confirmed Tuesday that we are experiencing the long-anticipated second wave.

The good news for the people of New Brunswick and the surrounding communities, said Les Hirsch, president and chief executive officer of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, is that the hospital is prepared to go another round with the coronavirus.

Hirsch and the other Saint Peter’s leaders who participated in the program, "Saint Peter’s and You; Making a Difference,” said lessons have been learned during the spring surge on how to better prepare its staff, how to better treat the disease and how to best utilize its facilities.

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Hirsch, using Zoom on Tuesday to address a virtual audience comprising Middlesex County officials, donors, supporters, Saint Peter’s Healthcare System Board of Governors member Dr. Judy Caruso, Saint Peter’s Foundation Board of Trustees member Brian Regan and others, said an innovative outreach program seemed to preemptively help slow the spread in New Brunswick during the coronavirus surge.

He said that officials at Saint Peter’s, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, the county health department and Mayor Jim Cahill’s office worked to identify two hotspots in the city.

“We were able to literally go out into the community and put together these packages of supplies,  masks, soap, educational materials, especially in Spanish, because a couple of neighborhoods that really were getting hit hard by this was the Esperanza and Unity Square neighborhoods that are more heavily populated by the Hispanic community,” Hirsch said. “And we were able to get our arms around it and drive the numbers in the right direction.”

Inside the hospital, Linda Carroll, MSN, RN-BC, vice president of patient care services, said many best practices were adopted during the surge.

One of the most innovative ones included the installation of “peekaboo” windows in all the patient care rooms so the staff could see the patients when their doors were closed.

“We also created a safety observation room where we had one of our critical care nurses there monitoring remotely all of our patients,” she said. “So, there were several cameras that were installed in different patient areas with two-way communication. That nurse remotely could visualize several patients and then communicate to that primary nurse, if there was any critical needs that needed to be addressed immediately.”

Henry Redel, chief of infectious diseases, said staff members monitored treatments other hospitals were using. That led one of the care teams, for example, starting to use steroids to treat COVID-19 patients.

“One of the other teams wasn’t,” Redel said. “The team that was using the steroids said, ‘I think our patients might be doing a little better.’ So, then we started to kind of inch over toward that.”

Saint Peter’s University Hospital has treated 2,553 COVID-19 patients, including 1,107 inpatient, since receiving its first coronavirus patient in March. At the height of the pandemic, it treated 178 patients in a single day.

There were 23 COVID-19 patients at Saint Peter’s as of Tuesday afternoon.

Although Saint Peter’s launched an aggressive plan to welcome patients back after Gov. Phil Murphy announced in May that evasive procedures, outpatient services and outpatient procedures could resume, Hirsch said there was a devastating financial impact on the hospital in particular and the industry in general.

Although Hirsch referenced that Saint Peter’s received $50 million in federal aid, he spoke only a few times about the Sept. 10 announcement that Saint Peter’s and Robert Wood Johnson would initiate the integration of the two healthcare systems.

When asked if there are opportunities for the hospitals to work together if we experience another spike in COVID-19 cases, Hirsch said, ‘Yes and I would say that goes irrespective of whether or not the definitive agreement exists or not. Saint Peter’s and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital have a very long history, going back over 20 years, of working together for the betterment of the community.

“When it comes to serving the community, we work together and put our competitive interests aside.”