TOMS RIVER – Domie Catipan, an Emergency Department nurse at Community Medical Center was all smiles when he received his first COVID-19 vaccine at his place of work from Chief Nursing Officer Donna Bonacorso.
The first round of vaccinations began at the Toms River hospital late last month.
New Jersey continues to have one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 transmission cases in the nation at .92 – which means every time someone gets sick, they transmit it to less than one other person. It is the lowest since mid-September. Anything below one indicates the virus isn’t aggressively spreading according to health officials. Health officials however are finding hope in the arrival of the vaccination process.
CMC Chief Executive Officer Patrick Ahearn said, “We have 192 (staff administered) a day. It is 24 an hour for eight hours. That is 192. We’ll be open longer than eight hours so you figure in a week there will be over a thousand people. We have over 3,000 employees, and volunteers (increase that number) so our plan is to vaccinate the first round within three weeks.”
The vaccine requires a second dose. “The second round will be the next three weeks so in six weeks we expect all our employees to have the availability to be vaccinated,” Ahearn said.
He added that as for as any vaccine shortfall in the state, “there is no guarantee that we’ll have enough for everybody but what we did internally is three tiered it for those we felt were the front line as Domie is every day, the Emergency Room, the ICUs, people like that. Not just nurses but people who go in and clean the rooms. People around the real front line that are taking care of COVID patients.
“Then the rest of the nursing staff because even though you may be working in a non-COVID unit, you never know. Then there are people like me, the administrators who take the third phase. We’ve laid it out and it is by invitation only and only when we have the vaccine and know exactly how many. The first round we got 975 doses and if we get that three weeks in a row – which is what we are supposed to get – we’ll have our 3,000 or so doses,” Ahearn said.
Catipan, 53, of Toms River is already scheduled for his second dose. He has worked in the hospital’s emergency room for the last nine years. “I started in the emergency surgical floor for the last 15 years so I’ve been here for the last 25 years.”
“I’m so glad that we now have the vaccine and having been sick last March with the coronavirus for five days and I am happy to get the vaccine. We want to get back normal with everyone getting vaccinated,” Catipan said.
“I didn’t feel a thing,” he said regarding his shot in the arm. He noted that unlike a time earlier in the pandemic there are less people worried about actually going to the hospital for needed treatments, checkups, procedures or surgeries not related to the virus. “More people go to the hospital to get tested. We’ve had some people test positive but they are not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital.”
“They are cases that have required their quarantine for two weeks. They wear the masks at all times in public,” Catipan said.
Ahearn said, “we are about 60% of what we experienced during the first phase (of the pandemic). We are still one of the busiest hospitals in New Jersey. I think we are sixth busiest COVID hospital in the state.”
“What we are seeing is that instead of people being admitted, they are treated and released and the pharmaceutical interventions have been very helpful. That has really kept people out of the hospital and have helped them cope,” Ahearn added.
As to how front line fighters and hospital staff have coped with the ongoing pandemic personally, Catipan said “for me, I live on my own. I don’t have any kids so it is not as bad as for those who have kids at home. Before we leave the hospital, we wash our hands and decontaminate ourself and change our clothes and go back to our private life.”
Ahearn said in his case, “I was basically sequestered down here in Community for three and a half months because I have four children and two of them were having my grandchildren in the middle of all this.”
“I had two grandchildren born in the middle of the pandemic, one in March and one in May and the family was concerned that I am in the middle of this every day and I make it a point to travel through the hospital floors. I’m not someone who will just sit in my office and my family was concerned that I would bring it home,” Ahearn added.
Ahearn said his wife “would leave my clothes and every week or so I’d go home and pick up clothes outside the house. It was very difficult. Now I’ve been home and the kids are all healthy and happy but it has affected life. The holidays were not what they were previously. It is very small, Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
“I have a daughter who is supposed to be married in October and so we wonder will that really happen? Maybe by spring or summer things will be somewhat back to normal and maybe this wedding will actually happen. If not it is all about plan B,” Ahearn said.
He added, “the thing I worry most about (concerning hospital staff) is there emotional wellbeing. It has been nine months and people like Domie who are on the front lines every day it gets draining emotionally. I know I do I go home and I don’t even want to talk to anybody.”
“We love our jobs,” Catipan interjected noting though that the staff feels the stress as well.
“They all have a huge heart and they care for people first and I see that every day here. They put themselves in harm’s way,” Ahearn added.