How 1 New Jersey Hospital Is Handling The Coronavirus Pandemic NPR's Steve Inskeep talks to Dr. Stephen Brunnquell of the Physicians Network at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center about Bergen County, New Jersey's large number of COVID-19 patients.
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How 1 New Jersey Hospital Is Handling The Coronavirus Pandemic

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How 1 New Jersey Hospital Is Handling The Coronavirus Pandemic

How 1 New Jersey Hospital Is Handling The Coronavirus Pandemic

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is an especially grim morning in the state of New Jersey. Yesterday, Governor Phil Murphy announced the state's highest daily death toll in the pandemic.

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PHIL MURPHY: Today, with the heaviest of hearts, we must also sadly note that another 365 blessed souls have been lost due to COVID-19-related complications. And the overall toll of this pandemic on our state in terms of loss of life is now 2,805 lost brothers and sisters of our New Jersey family.

INSKEEP: The surge in New Jersey deaths comes despite a few hopeful signs elsewhere in the New York City metropolitan area. Bergen County, N.J., is just across the Hudson River from New York. And it's in Bergen County that we find Dr. Stephen Brunnquell, who is president of the Physicians Network at the Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. Good morning, sir.

STEPHEN BRUNNQUELL: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: How's your hospital doing?

BRUNNQUELL: You know, Steve, I think we're doing well. We hit a peak of patients with COVID a few days ago. I'd like to say that we're on the downward slope of the curve. We're not quite there. But I think we've sort of plateaued.

INSKEEP: That is an important thing you just said, that the number of deaths has continued increasing, but that's considered - that tragic number is considered a lagging indicator. The total number of patients seems to be going down just a little bit where you are?

BRUNNQUELL: Yes. You're exactly correct. The number of deaths is a lagging indicator. The more important indicator for me is the number of admissions. And our number of admissions has held roughly stable over the last week.

INSKEEP: Well, given that, have you been able to meet the need for beds, for equipment, for ventilators, for staff?

BRUNNQUELL: Yeah. Steve, actually, the bed part is the easy part (laughter). We've expanded our bed capacity. And we've put beds in places that don't normally see beds. The harder challenge, frankly, is staffing those beds. You need to have nurses. You need to have doctors. You need to have support staff for all those things. And that's been a challenge. But we've met that challenge in a number of ways.

We closed down our hospital to elective procedures over a month ago. And that freed up our surgeons, our anesthesiologists, our operating room staffs. And they've all been redeployed. In fact, we have our surgeons, because they're not doing elective procedures, teamed up with our medical doctors. And we've reintroduced them to a stethoscope. And they work side by side with us. And they've been great. The staff is - they've all been stars during this.

INSKEEP: And they have enough personal protective equipment and other equipment to treat people?

BRUNNQUELL: We've kept just ahead of that. This has been a struggle, as we all know. I get on the phone with the chief medical officers in Bergen County every day. We compare notes. We sort of teach each other this disease. And we also share how we're doing on PPE. And we've been able to actually share equipment with each other. We sent a couple of ventilators over to a neighboring hospital. We shared some masks this past weekend. We were short on gowns, they sent us some gowns, so we've bailed each other out. We're - in other times, we're competitors. But this time, we're only competing with the virus.

INSKEEP: You know, I'm hearing a little bit of pride in your voice. Do you feel like you're rising to this challenge?

BRUNNQUELL: (Laughter) If you told me a month ago we would be doing what we're doing today, I don't think anybody would've believed it. But, you know, you have to rise to the occasion. And I think everyone has done that. I - we're staying just ahead of it. I don't want to say that this is easy; it's not. It's really, really hard. None of us have ever done this. There were no lectures in medical school on how to manage a pandemic. But we've gotten together. And everybody's pitched in. It's been all hands on deck. And if we don't have a surge above this, I think we've got it.

INSKEEP: I am thinking, though, you're witnessing a lot of people who are sick. Of course, you're trained to do that. You're used to that. But it's an unusual situation. You're witnessing a lot of deaths. All of you are living with constant exposure to this disease that the rest of us are trying to avoid frantically being exposed to. Is there a toll that that hits you if you have a quiet moment in the evening?

BRUNNQUELL: Yes, there is. And, you know, you've hit on a very important topic here. This is - there's a fair amount of anxiety going to work. And there's a fair amount of emotion. Yes, we're used to people dying. That's part of what we do as physicians. They're usually much older people. And whereas that's sad, it is the sort of natural - it's the natural evolution of our lives. What we're also seeing now is much younger people, much like ourselves, without a lot of preexisting medical conditions succumbing to this disease. And that carries a very heavy emotional toll.

INSKEEP: Dr. Brunnquell, thanks for your work, and thanks for your time.

BRUNNQUELL: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: He's a physician and president of the Physicians Network at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, N.J., a state that reported its highest death toll yesterday.

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