Hackensack Meridian Health Launches Vaccination Effort To Protect Frontline Team Members Against Covid-19

December 15, 2020

Limited Initial Supply Part of Statewide Rollout in Accordance with CDC Guidelines

Hackensack Meridian Health, the largest, most integrated health system in New Jersey, today announced its first vaccinations against COVID-19 that prioritize frontline team members, who have heroically cared for more COVID-19 patients than any other health system in New Jersey.

“We celebrate this astonishing achievement of developing a safe and effective vaccine in record time,” said Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, CEO, Hackensack Meridian Health. “We are excited to be part of history as we start the process of vaccinating the people of New Jersey. It’s imperative that we remain vigilant in our fight against this global enemy and on behalf of families, our communities and our healthcare heroes.”

Earlier this morning, the first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine were injected into essential frontline team members that included:

Kameno Bell, MD
Emergency Medicine Physician
Son of a longtime hospital administrator and track and field star George Walker, who still practices dentistry. Had a mild case of COVID-19 in the spring. A collegiate football star, he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 1992 and has been on the Hackensack University Medical Center frontline team from the early days of this pandemic. He has worked at Hackensack since 2007.

Reyna Berroa
Director, Respiratory Services
Speaks English and Spanish.
Married mother of two who lives in Bergenfield. She came to the United States at 9 and settled with her family in Washington Heights, NY. A respiratory therapist and graduate of Stony Brook University, she started working at Hackensack University Medical Center in 2008. She became a supervisor in 2012 and director in 2015. She leads a team of frontline workers who treat COVID patients who are critically ill.

Patricia Gardner
Nurse Manager, Cardiac Unit
Patricia Gardner has worked at Hackensack University Medical Center for nine years. The Passaic resident grew up in Jamaica and moved to the United States as an adult. She has been on the front line since the early days of the epidemic-turned-pandemic. The deacon of her church – Calvary Evangelistic Assembly in Paterson – recently died of COVID and it is a big loss because he was a father figure to so many. She has inspired three members of her family to become nurses, including a niece who just entered nursing school.

Rafaelina Moran
Speaks English and Spanish
Group leader, Environmental Services
Has worked at Hackensack University Medical Center for the past 10 years. A mother of two sons, she lives in Paterson. She came to the United States from the Dominican Republic at age 9. Graduated from Eastside High School and then took time off to start a family. In June, following the first wave of the pandemic, she was promoted to group leader from the position of cleaner.

Greg Sugalski, MD
Emergency Medicine Physician
Dr. Sugalski is a U.S. Army veteran who served as an Emergency Medicine physician at Fort Sam Houston in Texas and served two deployments Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively. He is the chief of Quality and Patient Safety in the Emergency Medicine Department at Hackensack University Medical Center. As he worked as a physician in support of combat missions during time of war, the Oradell resident has served critically ill patients at Hackensack during the war on this pandemic. He has worked at Hackensack for the past 18 months.

Lisa Tank, MD
Chief Medical Officer, Hackensack University Medical Center
Dr. Tank is board certified in geriatrics, internal medicine and hospice and palliative care. A graduate of M.P. Shah Medical College, she trained at New York-Presbyterian – Brooklyn Methodist Hospital.

“I’m getting vaccinated today for my colleagues who are on the frontlines of this pandemic, and everyone impacted by COVID-19,” said Lisa Tank, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center. “This is the beginning of the end for COVID-19 and we’ll only be successful in eradicating the pandemic if citizens across New Jersey do their part. We owe it to the frontline teams who are risking their lives to treat the virus.”

Today’s vaccinations launched Hackensack Meridian Health‘s deployment program throughout the network to essential frontline workers. Physicians, nurses and staff members working in direct contact with COVID-19 patients will soon receive the first of the two-dose regimen. The deployment will involve a corps of vaccinators whose ranks include retired nurses that are returning to assist the effort.

Hackensack Meridian Health received a limited supply to be distributed among its network in accordance with CDC guidelines, which will require two injections at least 21 days apart. Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine has demonstrated 95-percent efficacy against infection with minimal side effects, and works on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which instructs cells in the body to make different proteins.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is our safest, best shot at ending this pandemic,” said Daniel W. Varga, M.D., Chief Physician Executive, Hackensack Meridian Health. “Together and for each other, we need to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available and can’t forget to mask up and keep our distance. We’ve come too far and are too close to defeating COVID-19 and have to stay vigilant now more than ever.”

Hackensack Meridian Health’s Measures to Protect Frontline Team Members and Patients

Given the rampant community spread in New Jersey, Hackensack Meridian Health is continuing to take many robust steps to protect team members and patients, and these measures are continually enhanced to maintain an environment where it is safe to practice medicine and seek in-person care, including:

  • Several months of supply of PPE, expanded ICU capacity, rapid testing, and better patient management strategies
  • Extensive COVID-19 testing of patients, physicians and team members as well as COVID antibody testing for staff
  • Conducting COVID-19 screening, including temperature and state travel advisory monitoring, of all patients, guests, team members and physicians who enter our facilities
  • Creation of separate pathways and areas for the treatment of COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients and providing specially designated entrances for further separation
  • Staging facilities for social distance, with visible reminder signage, and providing disinfectant dispensers throughout
  • Rigorous and continual cleaning and sanitizing of all locations, including “terminal cleaning” and the use of ultraviolet (UV) light cleaning and electrostatic misting, providing ‘above and beyond’ disinfection.
  • Continuing to follow universal masking, enforcing its usage and ensuring everyone has the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) by creating an equipment stockpile, including eye protection
  • Temporarily suspended visitation with hospitalized patients, with exceptions for labor and delivery, end-of-life care, pediatrics and adult patients with special needs