New Jersey

NJ's Largest Hospital System Expects Hospitalizations to Exceed Worst of 2020 Soon

The chief physician executive of Hackensack Meridian Health says his organization is preparing to implement "crisis standards of care"

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As COVID-19 hospitalizations rise 10% a day in New Jersey, the state's largest hospital system says it is a (short) matter of time until 2020's grim record is broken.

"If you look at what the (health) commissioner and governor are positing relative to their COVID models, sometime in the middle of January we’re likely to see the same level of hospitalization we were seeing back in March, April of 2020," Dr. Daniel Varga, the chief physician executive of Hackensack Meridian Health, told News 4.

HMH has 17 hospitals statewide and thousands of beds, but as more patients come in -- and more staffers get sick too -- the pressure on the system will rise. Crisis planning is underway at the hospital system, as healthcare providers are now preparing to strike elective surgeries as early as mid-January, according to state modeling that Varga has seen.

"We’re already teeing up our process for how we will manage when we have to go to crisis standards of care, because I just think it's going to get there," Varga said.

It comes as the state hospital association issued a "Level Red," which means that virtually no visitation will be allowed at hospitals, except generally for birthing and pediatric cases — and even then, only one person is allowed at a time. Hospital diverts have also soared in recent days, as one in five emergency rooms were on divert Wednesday night.

As it stands now, there are about 3,600 people in the hospital with COVID in New Jersey, a figure that has doubled in less than two weeks. According to the New Jersey Hospital Association, at the very depths of the pandemic, on April 14, 2020, there were 8,065 people hospitalized with the virus.

Varga said the state's models peak at somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 admissions in the current wave, and he added those would primarily be unvaccinated people between about ages 20 and 60. The peak was just over 8,000 nearly two years ago, when hospitals were basically treating nothing but COVID — but Varga notes that hospitals now have new ways to fight the worst of the virus.

"We know how to manage patients without ventilators a lot better, we use high-flow oxygen," Varga said.

Earlier Thursday, the state reported nearly 28,000 new cases of COVID-19, up 35% from the day before and more than 300% higher than the pre-omicron record.

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