COVID-19 response requires 'all hands on deck,' Atlantic Health System CEO says

As president and CEO of Morristown, N.J.-based Atlantic Health System, Brian Gragnolati is at the center of the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Gragnolati's health system serves more than half of New Jersey, where, according to the state's health department, there were 890 positive COVID-19 tests reported as of 1:30 p.m. ET March 20. At the seven-hospital system itself, which has 17,000 employees and 4,800 affiliated physicians, at least 21 patients have been confirmed positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The system expects that number to climb dramatically in the days and weeks ahead.

Becker's recently caught up with Mr. Gragnolati to get his take on when he expects COVID-19 cases to peak in his region; his health system's capacity as far as intensive care unit beds and ventilators; how he is triaging mission-critical tasks; and how he is preparing for potential employee COVID-19 cases. Here are four thoughts from his interview.

1. He won't try to predict when cases will peak in his region and ultimately subside, due to varying factors. Mr. Gragnolati said it is difficult to predict without knowing how many people overall have been exposed to the virus. He noted that such a prediction will also depend on how well people adapt to social distancing recommendations.

2. Atlantic Health System has freed up capacity by postponing procedures that are not needed immediately, and by providing more services via telehealth. Mr. Gragnolati said he believes the pandemic "will bring telehealth into the fore" across the healthcare industry. He said his health system is also looking at how to use operating rooms and other facility areas as ICUs, where patients on ventilators can be monitored.

3. As far as potential employee COVID-19 cases, Atlantic Health System is trying to strike a balancing act. "As the virus takes hold in the community, many team members end up acquiring it in the community," said Mr. Gragnolati. "That requires a different approach. The balance we always have to strike is making sure we're here for our communities to take care of them. At the same time, we want to make sure we're keeping workers safe." 

4. Mr. Gragnolati said the health system is following CDC guidelines, and he takes his temperature every morning and is practicing social distancing. The system is also educating employees about self-care and following protocols. "If they do become ill, have processes around that getting them back to work," Mr. Gragnolati added. "This is an all hands on deck exercise." 


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