With on-campus facilities already built, Bergen New Bridge is ready to be leader in vaccinating

CEO Visconi says of Army Corps structures: ‘These facilities actually lend themselves perfectly to a large vaccination administration site’

CEO Deb Visconi is eager to get the staff at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center vaccinated.

As the state’s largest hospital — one that has separate facilities for acute care, long-term care, behavioral health as well as detox — it’s important to get the thousands of staffers who serve such a diverse population protected, she said.

Then, Visconi said, the facility can get on with its most important message: Providing the vaccine for one of the hardest-hit counties in the country.

The good news: Bergen New Bridge may be in a better position to vaccinate than any other hospital campus in the state.

Deb Visconi. (File photo)

The two self-contained facilities that were built by the Army Corps of Engineers during the first surge of COVID-19 are still standing and being used as the vaccination center. Visconi said they currently can handle approximately 300 people a day, but have the capacity to expand to a far greater number — and figure to do so next spring, when the vaccine is expected to be available to more of the general public.

“These facilities actually lend themselves perfectly to a large vaccination administration site,” she said. “So, we’re planning on that. It’s a really nice setup. They are clean and private and heated.”

The 13,450-square-foot facilities also have proved to be weather-resistant.

“They withstood the test of the storm that passed through here last week,” Visconi said.

The bigger challenge may be overcoming the resistance of those hesitant to take the vaccine. It’s a resistance that even comes from the staff that has treated COIVD-19 patients for months.

Visconi is hopeful that the success of the initial vaccination process will change some minds.

“As a health care leader, I want to make sure that everybody takes advantage of the vaccine,” she said. “Unfortunately, when we did a poll of our staff, only 48% said they will take the vaccine. We’re hoping, now that it’s here, and they’re seeing their colleagues get the vaccine, we might get a few more.”

Anyone watching those getting the vaccine at Bergen New Bridge should feel better. Visconi said there have been no issues.

“We can report preliminarily that no one has experienced any adverse side effects other than a little bit of a soreness in the arm, nothing more than you would experience from a flu shot,” she said.

And, if there are any issues, Visconi said that’s the beauty of the facility.

“It’s great to be able to do this on a hospital campus,” she said. “If people do have a reaction, we’re right here. We have our clinical team, we have our doctors, we have our emergency department. So, if anything happens, we’re fully equipped and ready to handle any emergency.”

It’s all part of the ramp-up, Visconi said.

“We’re actually going to be running three separate vaccination programs under one roof — we’re going to have the employee Pfizer program and we’re going to have the long-term care program that’s been administered by CVS, which is starting next week,” she said.

Bergen New Bridge, she noted, has the staffing ability to handle this type of surge, too.

“We’re using our relationships with our colleges to use student nurses,” she said. “And this is where our partnership and relationship with the County of Bergen is very helpful, because they have public health nurses and other types of resources that we can have access to, as well.

“Our team is providing the leadership and the guidance for manning the center. But, from a staffing point of view, we’re going to be using other kinds of creative solutions to make sure we have the right amount of people to vaccinate without having to directly tap into our nursing staff.

“It is all just an extraordinary testament to the people that work here and our commitment to our communities and the health and safety of the residents of Bergen County.”

Visconi touched on a number of COVID-related subjects during the interview. Here are a few more of her thoughts.

ROI: Talk about vaccine distribution. After the staff, who is next?

DV: We open it up to more community-based health care providers. People in doctors’ offices, behavioral health providers, dental offices or any anybody else that’s considered a health care provider or health care worker. We will open our doors to them so that we can vaccinate as many people as possible. Obviously, we have the goal set forth by our Department of Health commissioner to vaccinate 70% of the population, and in six months.

ROI: There are some early reports out of Europe that there might be a second strain of COVID-19. What are you hearing?

DV: We have what’s out there in the news, but we have not seen it yet. It’s always a little frightening when you have a mutating strain of a virus, so we are on alert, which is why it’s incredibly important to not only get the vaccine that is rolling out, but to not let our guard down. We have to continue to do the things we’ve been doing, which have been incredibly effective: masking, physically distancing, washing your hands, even curtailing your holiday events. We can’t let your guard down.

But, if another strain were to come and the vaccine didn’t work against it, it could be another devastating situation, for sure.

ROI: You mentioned the student nurses and volunteers. How incredible is it to see that so many people want to join the health care profession after everything we’ve been through?

DV: I am incredibly proud of our younger generations and in the people that have been emailing and calling to want to (help) and they don’t get paid. I mean, they’re looking to just volunteer to assist, do internships, do anything. People are just coming out of the woodwork wanting to help hospitals and help us, in particular.

As a health care leader who always wants to give back to the profession, I love to see this renewed energy around people wanting to get into the health care profession, whether it’s as a social worker or nurse or a laboratory person. It’s really been very gratifying.

ROI: Last question. The vaccine is the hottest commodity in the world right now. Have you been getting calls from people wanting to jump the line?

DV: Have you been listening in on my line?

Everybody wants to know when we can take care of them. The calls are endless. I just tell everybody, we will take care of everybody as soon as we can. That everybody will have a turn. We will take care of everybody that wants a vaccine. It’s my responsibility to our community.

But you can’t jump the line.