Three hundred windows, D.I.Y. videos, and a final hand of comfort: Morristown hospital responds to a pandemic

Healthcare Heroes sign, Pine Street, Morristown, April 19, 2020.
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By Marion Filler

Morristown Medical Center has seen many changes since it opened its doors as All Souls Hospital in 1892.

Officials there say one constant has remained through all the re-brandings, expansions and medical advances: A commitment to Greater Morristown.

Amy Perry of Atlantic Health during a livestreamed conference about the pandemic, May 12, 2020. Photo by Marion Filler

What’s remarkable, though, is the community’s commitment to the hospital. All over town, lawn signs proclaim thanks to the “healthcare heroes” who have fought the coronavirus pandemic; donations of masks, meals and money continue rolling to the medical center.

“The investment that we thought we were making in the community came back to us a thousand times more,” Atlantic Health Senior Vice President Amy Perry said this week in a live-streamed conversation.

The outpouring of meals from local restaurants, contributions of “millions and millions of dollars,” and the parade of first responders demonstrating their gratitude has been extraordinary, said Perry, CEO of the hospital division and senior v.p. of integrated care delivery for the network.

DIY masks: A video posted by Morristown Medical Center shows how to make them for hospital staffers during the pandemic.

Early during the crisis, Perry realized there would be a shortage of masks. So she made a how-to-video that the hospital says got 120,000 hits.

“What better way to get this amazing community engaged than to get people sewing? Every single donation mattered, every stitch you put into these masks mattered and it was just a tremendous coming together. That is what the mask-making was all about,” Perry said.

She credited a culture of “agility, innovation, and caring” for helping the Atlantic system avert the chaos reported at other hospitals during the height of the COVID surge.

In its first month, Masks for Morristown has raised more than $44K to purchase PPE for Morristown Medical Center.

“You can’t invent these skills in a crisis,” she said, describing a sense of calm that enabled the system to “respond in such a sophisticated manner for our patients.”

Patient rooms had to be converted to COVID safe spaces with negative air pressure.

“They put 300 windows into solid core doors so nurses could look in,” Perry recounted. This reduced the number of times doors were opened and closed, which in turn enabled better air purification within the room.

As a further precaution, intravenous lines were run through special holes in the wall to stations inside the room.

Compassion was critical.

“One of the biggest things was the inability of patients to be with their families,” Perry said. “We deployed hundreds of iPads on goose-necks so families could connect….Our team really became families for these patients.”

She cited a doctor who chose to stay with a dying man, holding his hand while his family was contacted to say their goodbyes.

Video: Amy Perry of Atlantic Health describes a COVID-19 patient’s last hours. Video by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com.

COVID-19 remains a threat. Perry advised the first line of defense should be your physician, followed by the hospital hot line.

But if you suspect something is wrong and cannot wait, go to the Emergency Room, she said.

“We are 100 percent percent safe. We were safe before COVID, we were safe during COVID, and we are safe now, because there are certain things that we do always, always,” Perry said.

She described an extensive hourly checklist carried out for patients and staff. “We delivered over 1,000 healthy babies over the last eight weeks, even with moms who had COVID. We understand the importance of safety, always.”

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