The stress of trying to treat the greatest pandemic in a century — one that had made his hospital, Holy Name Medical Center, the epicenter of the outbreak — was one thing. And it was the reason CEO Mike Maron was working around the clock, doing whatever he could to not only care for patients, but warn the state that COVID-19 was real.
The anxiety of what came next was even worse.
Maron, despite all the precautions, not only tested positive for COVID-19, he gave it to his wife and two sons before he knew he had it.
“The quarantine and the thought of testing positive was obviously concerning,” he said. “For me, most concerning, is that I infected my family. So, my wife and two of my sons also tested positive, which is a burden I’ll have to bear for the rest of my life.”
Maron, 60, who never stopped working from his Oradell home during his two-week quarantine, reflected on the outbreak in a 30-minute phone conversation with ROI-NJ on Monday morning.
Maron has been at the epicenter of the COVID-19 breakout in New Jersey from the beginning. No hospital has treated more COVID-19 patients than Holy Name. His story embodies the dangers that health care professionals around New Jersey are facing. While caring for their fellow New Jerseyans, they are putting themselves at risk every day.
He said he’s not sure exactly where he contracted COVID-19, and said there’s no evidence he passed it to other senior staff at the hospital or the elected officials from the area. He also said testing positive gave him a chance to experience its symptoms — though his symptoms were relatively mild — and get a better understanding of just how COVID-19 can impact you.
“Having been there, gone through it, you don’t want to get it,” he said. “I lost about 20 pounds, not a diet plan I would recommend for anybody. You want to avoid getting this at all costs. And it is so highly contagious that, if you care about your family, care about the loved ones, care about the people that you’re closest to, then listen to all the advice and make the sacrifice.”
Maron said he was fortunate in that no one in his family needed more treatment than two weeks of self-isolation.
“The disease affects everybody differently,” he said. “We were all blessed in that, other than having fatigue — it definitely drained us — (there was) nothing else. No other real consequences. Never had a high temp, never really had respiratory distress.”
And his family was fortunate to have support.
“I have family nearby,” he said. “So, my brother was dropping food off regularly, neighbors and friends dropping food off every day. Too much food, frankly. Your appetite was kind of gone. Toast and chicken soup at best was the staple for two weeks.”
Maron said he was unable to trace where he contracted COVID-19.
“When I was in patient care areas, we were extra cautious,” he said. “The conclusion is that it didn’t come from the staff; it came from others who also tested positive.”
It’s also unclear if he had COVID-19 when he attended a media briefing March 15 with Holy Name’s chief medical officer, Adam Jarrett, Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, Teaneck Township Manager Dean Kazinci, Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco, Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton and U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th Dist.).
Gottheimer and Tedesco both self-quarantined after Maron announced five days later he had tested positive. Everyone who was standing near Maron on that day has been cleared.
After contracting it, Maron did what most Americans are doing. He worked from home.
“Thanks to modern technology, I was able to video conference regularly with staff,” he said. “(I was) able to work with phones trying to help find (Personal Protection Equipment) and the other support that we needed. I was engaged quite a bit. So, even though I was home … I was able to accomplish a lot more than I would have thought being remote.
“That said, there’s nothing like being physically here and to be able to sort of boost the morale of the staff.”
Maron said his return to the hospital on Sunday showed him something he couldn’t fully comprehend from home: the efforts of his staff — both in treating patients and retrofitting the hospital.
“I cannot say enough about them,” he said. “My staff here have just gone above and beyond for everybody — especially the doctors and nurses on the front lines and the ER and the ICU.”
The facilities team deserves credit, too, he said. They built a 40-bed ICU that is specifically designed to keep pumps and ventilators and all the devices on the other side of a clear wall, or a safe zone outside of where patients are.
Read the original March 14 interview with Mike Maron on life at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Maron said it’s a key move, as it means the staff does not have to wear the PPE that is in short supply to change IVs. Some patients, he said, have as many as eight drips.
The number of patients is still increasing. Maron said Holy Name still gets more than 100 people a day in its emergency room.
“What we’re seeing is, there’s no slowdown,” he said. “Which is alarming in many regards.”
Maron, at the time of a March 14 article on ROI-NJ.com that went viral in the state — alerting many to conditions they were unaware New Jersey was facing — had just 11 patients, including six in ICU. He would give anything to have those numbers now.
Maron said Holy Name now has 110 people being treated in the hospital, 37 of whom are on ventilators. More so, he said the hospital is monitoring more than 1,100 people at home.
Maron said he’s glad to be back, but he still has plenty of worries.
His fear is that COVID-19 will begin to impact two communities that thus far have been relatively unscathed.
The first: Teaneck’s oldest residents.
“We continue to see the majority of people that are really being impacted ranging from their 20s into their the 60s, not a lot of seniors,” he said. “If this does penetrate (that group), that’s going to be a whole other wave of cases that are going to be extremely difficult, because the prediction would be that most of them are going to end up on ventilators. Then, we’re absolutely going to have a shortage of equipment to be able to handle people. And that, that’s one of our worst fears.”
The other is in Haiti.
Holy Name is a single-entity hospital in Bergen County. But it has a sister hospital in Haiti, Hôpital Sacré Coeur in Milot, which Holy Name took ownership of in 2010 after the earthquake.
Maron, even in self-quarantine, kept an eye on the goings on there, sending advice — and supplies. COVID-19 is in Haiti; it just hasn’t exploded at the same rate it has in other countries. Maron fears that is inevitable, due to the density of the population and the inability of the government to implement necessary restrictions.
“This disease, if it takes off in Haiti, will be catastrophic,” he said.
This is what concerns Maron. But he knows that, if it happens, people will come to the rescue. If he learned one thing during his self-quarantine, it is this: The human spirit has never been greater.
Maron said he not only heard from family and friends, but he rattled off the names of elected officials and hospital executives who reached out. Too many too count, he said. But all so important to him while he rallied.
“The outpouring of support and well wishes from people was truly humbling,” he said. “(I’m) very grateful to everybody. And it’s nice to know that you have so many people praying for you and hoping that you’re going to pull through.”