Persichilli to retire as commissioner of health

Hospital leaders throughout state praise her efforts during pandemic, credit her for saving lives

Judy Persichilli, a longtime nurse and hospital executive who became one of the central faces in the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as the commissioner of health, announced Friday that she will retire from that role next month.

While Persichilli’s claim to fame for most came during the hundreds of media briefings she did with Gov. Phil Murphy — who always referred her as “the woman who needs no introduction” — the health care community appreciated the work she was putting in when the cameras were off.

New Jersey Hospital Association CEO Cathy Bennett said the impact of her leadership is immeasurable.

“Judy was the steady hand and calm voice we needed during the worst public health crisis of our lifetimes,” she said. “She faced the pandemic head-on and provided guidance and support to our industry as we worked to care for a frightened and ailing population.”

Bob Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health — perhaps the hardest-hit system in the country — agreed wholeheartedly.

“I witnessed firsthand Commissioner Persichilli’s unwavering dedication to public health and tireless efforts to advance the well-being of the people of New Jersey,” he said. “Her leadership, partnership and collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic were nothing short of extraordinary and undoubtedly saved lives.”

Inspira Health CEO Amy Mansue put it this way.

“Those of us who worked with her already knew it, but now the country knows that there is no one else you would want in a foxhole with you during times of battle,” she said.

Persichilli, 74, was thrust into the role just months before the pandemic started, when she put off retirement as CEO of University Hospital in Newark to change places with then-Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal.

She began as acting commissioner in August 2019, before being confirmed by the state Senate on Jan. 9, 2020.

Gov. Phil Murphy was grateful she was.

“Judy’s unwavering dedication to public service during one of the most challenging times in our nation’s history will always be remembered with sincere appreciation and indefinite gratitude,” he said.

Murphy also noted Persichilli’s efforts in the role went beyond the pandemic response.

“Her steadfast leadership at the Department of Health has not only guided our state through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has also driven our work to advance equity, improve maternal health, focus on the dangers of e-cigarettes and ensure that our hospitals and community health centers remain strong and accessible to all who need them,” he said. “Judy has been an invaluable adviser — and tremendous friend — and I am deeply grateful for her tireless efforts to advance the health and well-being of all New Jerseyans.”

Last fall, Murphy renamed the Department of Health’s office building in Trenton as the “Judith M. Persichilli Building” in recognition of her efforts during the pandemic.

In 2020, Persichilli was No. 1 on the ROI Influencers: Health Care list.

Persichilli had a distinguished career prior to assuming the role as commissioner and at University Hospital.

A longtime Registered Nurse, she was president emerita of Catholic Health East Trinity Health, the health ministry formed in 2013 by the consolidation of CHE and Trinity Health. She had been CEO of Catholic Health since 2009.

Many hospital leaders said her various roles in the sector made her the perfect person to run the DOH during the crisis.

Longtime leaders in the sector from hard-hit Bergen County offered praise.

  • Holy Name CEO Mike Maron: “I’ve known Judy Persichilli for more than 30 years, dating back to her time at Saint Peter’s in New Brunswick,” he said. “She has always been a brilliant and dedicated servant to the people of New Jersey, putting their health and interests ahead of all else. The world was exposed to her talent, dedication and commitment. During the pandemic, she provided outstanding leadership and coordination of services under the most challenging circumstances we will ever experience.”
  • Bergen New Bridge Medical Center CEO Deb Visconi: “Judy is a dear friend and a trusted colleague who has been a true servant leader during her long career in health care,” she said. “She led the Department of Health during one of the most challenging times the health care community has ever faced with true dedication to the health and wellness of every resident in the state of New Jersey.”
  • Englewood Health CEO Warren Geller: “Judy has been a steadfast leader and partner for hospitals in our state during the most challenging of times. She gave us the confidence and resources we needed to continue to serve our communities. In addition to her efforts on COVID, Judy also helped bring attention to health disparities in our state and has pushed us all to focus on health equity and access to care for all New Jerseyans.”

Persichilli referenced Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” when she summed up her experience to NJ Advance Media, which first reported her retirement.

“I’ve told my family it reminds of that opening line — ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’” she said.

“In terms of opportunity and being able to experience something like this and to work with the public servants here at the Department of Health and a governor who not only supported me, but the department 100%, was so present through the whole process, it made it the best of times.

“And there were certain aspects of it, sometimes internally in the department and also externally with misinformation, that made it the worst of times. But, at the end of the day, it was a real privilege to serve during this period of time.”