Betsy Ryan is president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association. Her blog, Healthcare Matters, examines the many issues confronting New Jersey's hospitals and their patients. Readers are encouraged to join the discussion, because healthcare matters - to all of us.

Hire a Veteran and Your Workplace Will Benefit

I’ve worked in a number of different places and have even been the boss at a few of them. And I can tell you that few things have brought more “feel-good” spirit to a workplace than NJHA’s hiring of 25 U.S. veterans last year.

These smart and dedicated men and women have served our country at home and abroad. And today, they’re on a new mission as “Certified Application Counselors.” Their job is to help uninsured New Jerseyans navigate the healthcare marketplace and sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

It is a job they have taken on with energy, commitment, good humor and a great esprit de corps. They really care about this mission, but most importantly, they really care about the people they are helping. One of our CACs helped a woman who was ready to halt her cancer treatments because she had lost her health insurance; he quickly guided her through the online Health Insurance Marketplace and helped her find coverage under another plan. Several of our CACs were on the ground in Atlantic City to assist the thousands of casino workers who lost their jobs.

All told, our CACs have reached nearly 60,000 New Jerseyans in the past year with information on their health insurance options. They’re now gearing up for Nov. 15 – the start of the ACA’s next open enrollment period.

For the rest of us working at NJHA, this program has made us feel good, plain and simple. We’ve helped people access healthcare. We’ve supported our veterans. And we’ve welcomed some wonderful new co-workers like: 

  • Norm Glover of East Windsor, who served in Vietnam and who remains active with the Military Order of the Purple Heart
  • Piertus Esperience of North Brunswick, who not only served two tours in Iraq with the Marines but also served a tour in Afghanistan with the Army. He and his wife recently welcomed their second child.
  • Hilda DeMello of Edison, a Navy veteran who now serves as one of our CAC team leaders.
  • John Rodriguez of Bayonne, an Army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  • And Fred Kariuki of Phillipsburg, who grew up in Kenya and later became a U.S. citizen and joined the Air Force. He continues to serve in critical missions as a member of the Air Force Reserves.

I would love to list each one of our CACs but suffice to say that every one of our veterans has a legacy of service.

NJHA is fortunate to have these dedicated individuals on our side, not just on Veterans Day but every day. So to them and to all the veterans out there, thank you for your service.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

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Here’s How We’re Preparing for Ebola

Let me take an opportunity to share some thoughts on Ebola. It’s on all of our minds – and certainly has been at the top of every newscast. The nation is worried.

But I would urge everyone to take a deep breath and keep some perspective. The flu kills more than 20,000 people in the United States in an average year – about four times more than the number of Ebola deaths in this outbreak. I’m only noting those numbers to make the case that worrying about Ebola is understandable, but panicking about it is not.

NJHA and New Jersey’s hospitals have been gearing up for weeks as they have watched Ebola spread in West Africa. Fortunately, New Jersey has no known cases of Ebola at this time.

Ebola is not an airborne disease. It can only be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected individual. And an individual with Ebola isn’t contagious unless that person is showing symptoms. But Ebola, especially in its advanced stages, can be very contagious in direct contact situations. That’s why isolation precautions and personal protection for healthcare workers is so important.

Our hospitals are on high alert to watch for a potential Ebola case that could come to their facilities and to take immediate action to isolate that individual and implement full precautions to protect their staffs and their communities.

To that end, our hospitals have reviewed all appropriate policies and protocols; identified areas in the hospital that would be used for patient isolation; inventoried supplies including personal protective equipment for employees; and provided training and best practices to staff on patient identification, isolation, infection prevention and use of protective suits.

In addition, NJHA has joined with the state Department of Health in strongly encouraging all New Jersey hospitals to conduct Ebola drills in their emergency departments by Oct. 17. We have been in near-constant contact with the state’s public health officials since Ebola arrived in our country, and we appreciate that access and collaboration. In an emergency response, it’s important that we’re all working from the same playbook in protecting our patients, our healthcare workers and our broader communities.

And speaking of healthcare workers, I want to send a most heartfelt thank you to the nurses, physicians, laboratory workers, EMS personnel and others who have chosen a career of caring for others – even if that care could place them in harm’s way. Not only in this situation, but every day, they put their well-being at risk for all of us.

This Ebola situation is changing every day, every hour in fact. But each new development helps our healthcare system improve its preparedness. Public health officials have learned a great deal from the situation in Dallas, and lessons learned from that initial experience will be used to make our response better – and safer – for both our patients and our staff.  Every acute care hospital in the state has the responsibility to be prepared to care for an individual with this virus – and that’s a role we take very seriously.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

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Data Reveals Great Healthcare, Right Here in New Jersey

Senate President Steve Sweeney has toured some of New Jersey’s hospitals this summer to tout the excellence of healthcare in New Jersey. I was gratified, but not surprised. Why? The measurements are in and they are rock solid:

  • New Jersey ranks 9th in the nation for the quality of its hospital care by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
  • In the most recent rankings from U.S. News and World Report, 21 of the top hospitals in the New York Metro region are actually in New Jersey.
  • New Jersey boasts 21 hospitals to achieve the prestigious Magnet award for nursing excellence, one of the highest numbers in the nation.
  • New Jersey hospitals met or exceeded national averages in 25 of 26 “process of care” measures, according to the Department of Health’s most recent Hospital Performance Report. Those measures assess how well hospitals adhere to best practices across the industry.

New Jersey healthcare leaders devote a lot of time ensuring that they provide quality healthcare to the patients we serve. It’s the right thing to do for the patient. 

I’ve been doing two different tours myself this summer. First, I resolved to meet with every health system leader in New Jersey and every accountable care organization leader. Great things are happening in our state’s healthcare community, and I learn a tremendous amount during these visits. My second tour is a personal health tour, making sure I do the appropriate primary and preventive care visits. So far so good with both tours.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

N.J. Hospitals Provide Safe Havens for Unwanted Babies and Desperate Parents

There’s a safe alternative for overwhelmed parents who feel like they can’t take care of their newborn. It’s the Safe Haven program, a state-led initiative in which parents can safely surrender a baby at a hospital emergency room or police station.

The state Department of Children and Families recently announced a multi-pronged campaign to promote the Safe Haven program and make struggling parents aware that there are options available.

Under the state's Safe Haven Infant Protection Act, an individual can give up an unwanted baby safely, legally and anonymously as long as the child is unharmed. The law allows parents - or someone acting on their behalf – to legally and anonymously surrender an unwanted infant under 30 days old to any hospital emergency department or police station in New Jersey. Parents will be safe from prosecution if the baby has not been abused.

Sixty-two infants have been safely surrendered since the Safe Haven program was launched in August 2000, according to state officials.

New Jersey's hospital emergency departments are safety nets for the communities they serve. Usually that means providing care to the uninsured or others in need. And sometimes it means providing a safe place for the most vulnerable and peace of mind for desperate parents who feel like they have no other options.

For more information on New Jersey’s Safe Haven program, visit the DCF website at www.njsafehaven.org

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

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National Hospital Week: One Patient's Story

This week is National Hospital Week, and I have a very personal reason to celebrate.  A New Jersey hospital recently saved my life. Back in April, after a weekend of stomach pain that turned from very bad to unbearable, my husband drove me to our local hospital emergency department. I was quickly seen by a triage nurse and sent back immediately to the emergency room for an examination and tests. The diagnosis: a ruptured appendix that had spewed toxins throughout my body. I was rushed to the operating room at 1 a.m. and infused with antibiotics to help my body fight the toxins.

It was an experience you never anticipate ahead of time, but when it came for me and my family, we were so grateful to have quick access to round-the-clock hospital care. My physicians, nurses and patient technicians were terrific caregivers. It took my body a long time to fight back and get healthy -- nearly two weeks, in fact, before I was well enough to be discharged. But my caregivers were there at all hours, monitoring my status, administering medications and explaining to me and my large family what was happening. I was so sick I didn't realize the severity of the situation, but my body began to respond with the help of excellent care and strong meds. I thank all of the healthcare professionals who cared for me -- and all of the dedicated caregivers around the state who help patients like me. These compassionate individuals work just as hard at 3 a.m. as they do at 3 p.m., and on weekends and holidays as well.

This Hospital Week, I urge you to thank someone who works at your local hospital. You never know when you might need them.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

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