By Jennifer D’Angelo, CIO/SVP, Bergen New Bridge Medical Center
Responsive information technology quickly became a pivotal weapon in New Jersey’s largest hospital, Bergen New Bridge Medical Center’s, COVID-19 arsenal.
Bergen New Bridge in Paramus, New Jersey has 1,070 beds. It provides acute and ambulatory care, substance use disorder treatment including medical detox, inpatient, andoutpatient mental health services. It has the largest licensed nursing home as part of its campus andwith more than 2,000 staff members, the Medical Center has a large footprint with many diversified user needs.
Supporting the Medical Center by rapidly deploying mobile devices and work stations to the temporary tents housing the COVID-19 testing center and additional beds to care for our patients was critical. This entailed multiple tiers of staff providing end-user training and support while troubleshooting the challenges of non-traditional locations. Additionally, the Medical center’s gym was converted by the US Army Corps of Engineers into additional patient care space. IS had to fully equip this area with the technology needed to power.
As the situation progressed and many of the Medical Center’s outpatient medical clinics and mental health clinic services needed to be offered to patients virtually, developing multiple telehealth platforms to support these programs became vital to sustaining continuity of care for vulnerable populations. We know it is critical for people to be able to manage their medical conditions and receive their medication to stay as healthy as possible. We also recognize that this pandemic will certainly yield a mental health epidemic that will be far-reaching and as a leading provider of these services, we had to make sure we created a way for people to reach out and get the help they need.
Establishing a COVID-19 screening protocol platform was instrumental in getting our community, particularly our heavily impacted first responders and healthcare professionals, tested. Our Governor has made it very clear that testing is an essential part of his plan to logically and safely reopen New Jersey. As new testing options such as saliva and antibody became available, IS had to be ready to add them into the platforms. IS was also instrumental in implementing telehealth for court commitment hearings, working hand in glove with the County of Bergen.
To accommodate the needs of staff during this unprecedented time, some of the Medical Center’s workforce needed to move to remote locations. To make sure this happened as seamlessly as possible, IS rapidly set up the off-site systems, structure, protocols, and monitored security to ensure sustained communications integrity. The security piece is critical for a healthcare facility. With so many moving pieces, managing those aspects was the most impressive and essential outcomes of our pandemic response thus far.
We suddenly found ourselves in a situation where we could not meet in person. The IS team had to deploy webcams and support teams throughout the Medical Center to facilitate virtual meetings and virtual new hire orientation. Education and support were also necessary for this endeavor. Staffing became critical and our ability to onboard new hires and convert our very hands-on orientation successfully to a virtual platform ensured the sustainability of our workforce. Without a robust and capable IS team, the ‘new norm’ could not have evolved so expediently.
Visitation at our Medical Center was suspended as the virus began to be community spread. This meant that our more than 500 long term care residents could no longer physically visit with their loved ones. It was imperative that we kept our residents connected with their loved ones. IS provided iPads so virtual visits could happen. Ensuring the strength of the Wi-Fi signal and establishing hot spots to adjust to the ever-increasing demands of the facility during this unprecedented time also became a critical component of our pandemic communications response.
All of these things were done as the IS team was adjusting to heightened procedures for safety, such as wearing masks and increased workspace sanitation. It was important that our end users were comfortable with the team in their space and working on their devices, knowing we were adhering to the strictness infection prevention protocols possible to keep everyone healthy and safe. There was very little time to get comfortable and adjust as we had to react and do so precisely, professionally, and quickly. No CIO could have asked for a better response or more from their team. Character is truly shown, not made, during times of crisis.
Never has information technology played more of an essential role at a healthcare facility than during this pandemic. COVID-19 impacted swiftly, but we responded with equal speed. The ability to work remotely, care for patients and meet virtually, and connect those in our care with their loved ones as they battled and at times, lost the fight with the virus, is a defining moment for any CIO. As we continue to battle this virus, it is our unified efforts, embracing the best of medicine, science, technology, community, and kindness that will help us all rise and win this war together.