As COVID-19 crisis nears peak in N.J., Secaucus officials prepping for anything: ‘This is war’

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As the COVID-19 crisis nears its peak in New Jersey, Secaucus officials are hoping for the best while prepping for the worst, with the head of the local hospital declaring “this is war.”

Hudson Regional Hospital President and CEO Dr. Nizar Kifaieh. Screenshot via Zoom.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Hudson Regional Hospital President and CEO Dr. Nizar Kifaieh led off a Zoom call this morning to break down how the facility has been handling their drive-through testing facility and making adjustments necessary due to the influx of coronavirus patients.

He said that the hospital is admitting an average of 20 patients a day due to COVID-19 complications, which has caused about 15 deaths since Monday.

“This process has taken a significant toll on our facility. Our ICU has been completely full for over a week,” he said, noting that a makeshift ICU unit has been created on the second floor and that the hospital is extremely short staffed on nurses.

When asked about the morale of the hospital staff, Kifaieh remained positive despite the daunting challenges.

“The sense of partnership and camaraderie in this institution is second to none … everyone is in the middle of this. Everyone’s sleeves are rolled up. This is the way it is: this is war, everyone here is a solider, and I appreciate every single one of them.”

Kifaieh also said that their pre-screening program for potential coronavirus patients had remained efficient, with about 58 percent of people tested receiving a positive result – down slightly from approximately 64 percent last week.

Deputy Hudson County Administrator Dave Drumeler noted that since their drive through COVID-19 testing operation opened on March 24th, 2,178 people have been tested overall, with around 250 people being tested daily – though 289 were tested yesterday.

While Kifaieh said the governor’s office has been very responsive in communicating about day-to-day operations, he said they have heard few updates about the pop-up field hospital that is getting ready to open at the Meadowlands Exposition Center.

He said he was initially told the facility would be up and running on April 1st, unsure of when exactly they would start taking patients, but expressed greater concern over reports that the operation would only be treating non-coronavirus patients.

“So far my understanding is that that hospital will be used for non-COVID patients … the one thing that we all know … is that we are completely getting run down by COVID patients. We barely have any non-COVID or healthy patients.”

Kifaieh stated that if the floating hospital wanted to take the operational strains off of local institutions, they need to seriously consider commit resources to treating at least some coronavirus patients.

While she didn’t specifically mention Secaucus directly, New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said at a Trenton press conference that the state is already giving further considerations to how field hospitals will be used.

“As our COVID cases increase overall, it may be that we have to change our original projection and have it be a mix of COVID and non-COVID patients – which would require us to cohort the COVID patients in a certain way.”