For more than 18 months, the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted our lives more than any of us could imagine, none more than healthcare professionals who consistently risk their lives to protect the lives of others. Facing unexpected challenges, limited staff, inadequate supplies, and dealing with double, often triple the number of patients needing immediate and intensive care, abiding by their sworn Hippocratic Oath to “…do no harm,” with courage and grace, they tackled any obstacle to serving or saving a patient.

Sponsored by Aetna, The Positive Community’s Healthcare Heroes campaign salutes the doctors, nurses, aides, EMT’s, cooks, janitors, hospital and healthcare executives and many more who toil in anonymity—selflessly serving… WE THANK YOU

Under the direction of CEO Joan Dublin and Medical Director Dr. Patrick Beaty, Metropolitan Family Health Network, an ambulatory care center in Jersey City takes care of patients regardless of their ability to pay.

Clinical Director for Department of Pediatrics Dr. Jason T. Elliston, M.D., he takes the care center’s mission seriously. One of four pediatricians on staff Elliston says there is no hesitation to move whatever needs moving in order to provide his young (birth to 18 years old) patients the care they need.

During the height of the pandemic, the number of patient visits slowed tremendously. Some parents showed a great deal of uncertainty about bringing their children into the clinic for their regular vaccinations and check-ups. Elliston said his team developed ways to get them in and out with minimum exposure. Others embraced the telehealth virtual visits, which helped considerably to keep pace with the needs of the patients and the staff. Dr. Elliston chuckled, he had never seen or treated a patient via computer, but he embraced the new technology and was happy to have it.

The physical and mental health of his staff became an important task for the doctor in addition to patient care. Making sure they took adequate breaks to de-stress emotionally and avoid exhaustion, which enhanced their ability to care for their patients. Thankfully, most patients were not seriously ill with COVID19, but the number of COVID+ patients, especially those with the Omicron variant rose. A few patients had the post-Covid inflammatory syndrome and required hospitalization. With children not attending school and isolated at home, Dr. Elliston says he noted a significant rise in obesity and hemoglobin A1C numbers in his patients.

In the last several weeks fewer and fewer COVID tests come back positive. COVID+ patients come in to get the okay to go back to school, but the numbers are down. Let’s hope they stay that way.

CityLife Health, located at 44 Jones Street in Newark’s central ward, helps people with Medicaid connect to resources in their community and get care in their neighborhood. Like many other healthcare facilities, CityLife had to regroup and pivot early in the COVID-19 pandemic in order to handle their regular patient load while providing vaccinations and testing for COVID. A relatively small primary and urgent care facility, the number of patients they began seeing doubled from between 60 patients per day before the pandemic to well over 100, with lines forming around the block.

We spoke with Lauriel Morrison, director of Community Affairs at CityLife Health. Morrison recalls a day when 142 people were seen, some for testing, some for vaccinations, and some who had COVID or other urgent needs. How did they handle it? All-hands-on-deck. The company COO flew into Newark from Tennessee and went to work behind the front desk. “But in addition to caring for the patients, employee engagement and morale were uppermost,” Morrison explained. “Staff members have stress in their personal lives with a child at home or a family member with COVID, so a 15- or 20-minute break to go outside and get some air became a way to let some of the emotions settle down.”

Staff members also visit schools and churches with popup events including dental screenings. “We are located in the Central Ward, but we serve the entire city, wherever we are needed,” she said. Regarding the newest COVID variant, which appears to be spiking in many cities and states, when we spoke Morrison said, “We haven’t seen many cases, yet, but it’s coming, and we are prepared.”

L-R: Amanda Khight, RN (Former Immunization Nurse); Roslyn Goodwin, RN Immunization Nursing Supervisor; Velda Font- Morris, Former Immunization Coordinator; Yajaira Rivera, LPN, Immunization; Jessica Brobbey, LPN, Immunization
Nurses of the City of Newark Health Department,at Hello Fresh to provide vaccinations: Sandra Bacley, LPN, lead nurse Kathy Schappa, Susie Collin, RN, NP, and Cornelia Goetschakckx, RN

The nursing staff at the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness, Immunization Program’s main goal is to increase community immunity against vaccine-preventable diseases in the City of Newark. Day to day, they do so much for the community. Since the covid vaccine became available, the department has had to work overtime every day, including Saturdays and staff has been reduced. The nurses here did not see covid patients, but despite facing long, sometimes disorderly lines of citizens hoping to get their vaccinations, they remained professional, courteous and kind and continue to be the hub for covid vaccinations in Newark. Nurses were dispatched and will continue to travel to other locations to distribute vaccines. Reduced hours have begun, they only have one late night, but off-site clinics and a Saturday clinic are still in effect. Even through fear, death, guilt, and so much sorrow, these healthcare sheroes kept showing up with hope.

Dr. Pamela Clarke is the president and CEO of Newark Community Health Centers, Inc. (NCHC)

Established 35 years ago to serve Newark and the surrounding communities, NCHC has seven, easily accessible health centers in Newark, East Orange, Orange, and Irvington, Dr. Clarke points out. “We’re the largest ambulatory care facility in Essex.”

Dr. Clarke recalls hearing about COVID-19 in January and February of 2020. However, it was March when the center had to begin implementing major changes. With social distancing guidelines, how would NCHC manage their large patient load? Creating a safe environment was a high priority. This included temperature checks, non-stop hospital grade cleaning efforts, glass partitions, and personal protective equipment.

Dr. Clarke proudly speaks of the impact her staff made, “Last year we tested over 6,000 people.” In addition, their vaccine efforts began with Essex County healthcare workers in December. Since then, over 11,000 people have been vaccinated, equating to more than 22,000 shots to date. “We’re so proud of our nursing staff, providers, and all of our workers. They are our healthcare heroes. Our nurses were vaccinating over 1,000 people per month. Our staff just kept coming to work.”

The greatest testimony to the staff is the cards and thank you notes left by patients, many grateful for the staff’s level of service and the vaccinations. Despite the chaos and early confusion, NCHC never closed or reduced their hours. “Our mission statement is very simple,” Dr. Clarke explains; “Provid

Dr. Puthenmadam Radhakrishnan (Dr. Rad)

Dr. Puthenmadam Radhakrishnan (Dr. Rad) began his practice at Bellevue Pediatrics in 1997. Rad serves the inner-city population of Trenton, with most of his patients being covered by Family Care/Medicaid programs.

He recalls the initial shock as COVID-19 impacted local communities, “a lot of practices shut down and said, ‘We can’t deal with this until we know everything’s okay.’ But we did not shut down; we managed to continue providing care.” As a pediatrician, Dr. Rad saw children with infections that resembled Kawasaki syndrome, an infection that causes rash and fever in children as well as affecting their hearts. Ultimately, the health community realized this was COVID-19. In addition to treating their patients, Bellevue Pediatrics became a resource for local residents who could not get answers because so many practices closed. Said Rad, “We had calls from patients who had no doctor or didn’t know how to reach their doctor… We took in as many patients as we could.”

As Dr. Rad’s patient load increased, there a great deal of anxiety developed among his staff — no one had experienced anything like COVID-19. He credits communication and their family environment as keys to managing the pandemic. The practice now provides vaccinations. Dr. Rad recalls encouraging interactions involving children motivating reluctant parents to get vaccinated, “We’ve had these teenagers want to get the shot and tell parents, ‘I’m gonna’ get it, but you’re next. I want you to be around for me.’”

Joan Dublin, President and CEO of Metropolitan Family Health Network, Jersey City, NJ

Metropolitan Family Health Network, a federally qualified health center in Jersey City, NJ, manages 56,000 patient visits each year. President and CEO Joan Dublin oversees the organization’s nearly 100 staff members and speaks to the scope of services provided, which range from pediatric to OB/GYN and podiatry. “For the uninsured and underinsured, it’s not easy to get to Newark University Hospital, for example,” Dublin explained. “Our doctors are able to monitor them.”

Thinking about the early impact of the COVID pandemic, she recalled, “We lost a lot of staff and providers–close to 10 percent.” The pandemic affected Metropolitan’s staff, as well, sidelining their medical director for 10 months.

Even with the broad challenges, the center never closed, though according to COO Scott Carey, “Daily volume dropped by 70 percent.” Those patients who needed treatment, mainly Latinos and African Americans, expressed gratefulness that the center was still operating.

Carey also noted, “Despite the staffing hurdles, Metropolitan administered 5,000 COVID tests and 6,000 vaccine dosages.” Dublin added, “In addition to patient load, outreach to schools and churches became key and to really serve the whole person, food drives focused on the community’s nutrition.”

Early on, when it became necessary to pivot to virtual services and new testing protocols, the staff stepped up making Scott and Joan proud of the commitment they showed. Scott says the staff gained inspiration to keep working in spite of the circumstances from the popular quote, “… It’s not about how hard you get hit, it’s about how hard you get hit and keep on going forward.”

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Dr. Kemi Alli, CEO of the Henry J. Austin Health Center of Trenton/Mercer County

Dr Kemi Alli has been CEO of the Henry J. Austin Health Center since 2015. The health center serves the diverse community of the Trenton/Mercer County area, consisting of African Americans and Latin Americans, including Spanish-speaking patients. In addition, there’s a significant number of homeless patients. According to Dr Alli, 1 in 10 patients are homeless and approximately half qualify as low income.

The pandemic created numerous challenges for the health center. “There were a lot of unknowns. It was a scary time for staff and patients. We knew tele-heath would be critical early on,” Dr. Alli explained. “My role was being a spokesperson of facts and dispelling myths with my staff and the community in general. Early on there was so much hesitancy and this was an opportunity to level the playing field. I was saddened to see African Americans dying at twice the rate of Caucasians… Latinos three times the rate of Caucasians.”

The health center saw an approximate increase of 30% for urgent care and mental health appointments. On average, Henry J. Austin Health Center serves 20,000 people per year. Dr. Alli says the center has administered over 40,000 shots and more than 15,000 tests. “73% of Trenton adults 18 and older are now vaccinated.” She credits her staff for adapting so quickly and being committed to patient health.