‘Better two-gether’: Virtua feels merger with Lourdes, 1 year ago this month, has been key to fighting COVID-19 in South Jersey

Virtua Health CEO Dennis Pullin was confident the acquisition of Lourdes Health System — a merger that created the largest health system in South Jersey — would benefit the region.

But, as the merger celebrates its one-year anniversary this month, CEO Dennis Pullin can’t help but recognize how fortunate he feels the region has been as it takes on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dennis Pullin.

The past 12 months obviously have presented unforeseeable challenges and changes to the health care industry — and all aspects of life. Pullin said the intention of being “better two-gether” has proven its validity time and time again.

“We knew from the start that the combined strengths of Virtua and Lourdes would result in more comprehensive and coordinated care for the people we serve,” Pullin said. “What we could not have known is that, eight months later, our coming together would prove essential to guiding our community through an unprecedented public health crisis.”

The joining of the two not-for-profit organizations created South Jersey’s largest health system, with 14,000 colleagues, nearly 3,000 affiliated doctors and other clinicians, five hospitals and more than 280 other care locations.

Dr. Reg Blaber, the former CEO of Lourdes who now serves as executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Virtua Health, said there is strength — and safety — in those numbers.

“Fortunately, our newly joined resources allowed us to care for many of the people in South Jersey who required treatment or hospitalization because of COVID-19,” he said. “We were also able to set up community testing centers for COVID-19 in Camden and Burlington counties, thanks to our shared capabilities,” he added.

Other major achievements over the past year include:

  • New frontiers: Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital earned a spot on Watson Health’s list of 2020 50 Top Cardiovascular Hospitals in the nation. In fall 2019, the Virtua cardiology team performed two first-of-their-kind surgeries, including a successful mitral valve replacement on a pregnant woman.
  • New brand: In October 2019, Virtua Health introduced a new, modern brand, which included a new logo, advertising campaign and a refreshed look and feel for all marketing and communications. Part of the new brand includes the positioning strategy “Here for Good,” and the team-building, mission-based “Culture of We” among Virtua colleagues.
  • New hope: In April 2020, Virtua performed the first and second convalescent plasma therapies to COVID-19 patients in New Jersey (and among the first 10 in the country). Both individuals recovered and, in time, returned home to their respective families.
  • New technology: Due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures, Virtua quickly expanded its telemedicine portfolio and conducted more than 100,000 remote consultations and appointments in the first half of 2020.

Looking ahead, Virtua Health is reinvesting in its physical infrastructure through major renovations at two former Lourdes hospitals: Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden and Virtua Willingboro Hospital.

These locations also will implement Virtua’s electronic medical records system, which will result in greater coordination among Virtua care teams.

Virtua is building new facilities, including South Jersey’s first proton therapy center — for advanced cancer treatment — in partnership with Penn Medicine. In addition, Virtua is expanding its focus on social determinants of health by launching more initiatives to address behavioral health, transportation needs and food insecurity.

Pullin said the commitment to the region has never lapsed — and only figures to grow stronger.

“Virtua Health has been part of the framework of South Jersey for more than a century, albeit under different names,” he said. “As we look to the future, we must uphold our legacy of being a true partner in health.

“This means identifying and acting upon opportunities to support those in our community who have been overlooked or marginalized in the past and making our neighborhoods safe and healthy places to call home.”

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