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9 NJ hospitals hit divert status, partly due to COVID-19

Hospitals across the state are diverting ambulance traffic due to the pandemic, increased flu cases and other issues


Nine New Jersey hospitals are diverting ambulance traffic after reaching capacity due to a number of factors including COVID-19 and influenza.

Photo/Ed Murray, NJ Advance Media

Avalon Zoppo

TRENTON, N.J. — Several hospitals in New Jersey have gone on divert status and stopped accepting new patients this week due in part to an increase in coronavirus patients across the state.

Nine hospitals in different parts of the Garden State reached “divert,” including St. Francis Medical Center in Mercer County and AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said during a press conference in Trenton Thursday.

“Divert status” means either the whole hospital or a unit can’t accept new patients temporarily, and those patients are sent to other medical centers.

“We have several hospitals on divert right now. It’s a combination of full divert, partial critical care divert and psychiatric service divert,” she said, citing “general increase overall in volume, certainly exacerbated by increase in COVID patients.”

New Jersey’s hospitals had 1,827 patients with either confirmed or suspected cases as of Wednesday night, the most since June 5 but more than 6,000 below the pandemic’s peak in the spring. The statewide rate of transmission increased to 1.3 on Thursday, meaning the outbreak is expanding.

In Trenton, St. Francis Medical Center diverted patients from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesday, said hospital spokeswoman Jennifer McGowan-Smith.

McGowan-Smith said a higher number of coronavirus cases at the hospital contributed to the need to divert patients. Earlier in the fall, she said, the hospital’s number of COVID-19 cases were in the low single digits, but have risen to the mid-teens.

The hospital’s flu volume is low, she said, with only a few cases over the last couple of weeks.

“St. Francis Medical Center has an increased number of COVID cases that has contributed to our need to go on divert. We also have a high volume of non-COVID patients as well,” she said. “We want to emphasize that people should come to emergency room when they have an emergent need, don’t delay.”

The hospitals Persichilli listed at Thursday’s press briefing went on divert status for a mixture of reasons.

East Orange General Hospital was temporarily diverting patients on Wednesday due to an equipment issue, the hospital said in an emailed statement.

“East Orange General Hospital’s Emergency Department is temporarily diverting certain ambulance traffic to other area emergency departments while we address an equipment-related issue. Our diversion status is not related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are working on resolving the equipment issue and will return to accepting all ambulance traffic as soon as possible,” the statement reads.

In Gloucester County, Jefferson Washington Township Hospital temporarily diverted patients on Tuesday due to an influx of patients “primarily unrelated to COVID-19,” said hospital spokeswoman Nicole Pensiero. The hospital has, however, seen a slight uptick in coronavirus cases.

To prepare for a possible surge in cases, an expansion project is underway at the hospital that will add 90 new private rooms next year to the 230-bed acute care medical center.

“Additionally, we are taking precautions to ensure that any patients needing respiratory support – whether they are diagnosed with COVID or not – are given private rooms to ensure their safety and the safety of other patients in our hospital,” Pensiero said.

AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Egg Harbor Township temporarily went on divert status this week due to higher patient volume, said hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Tornetta.

She reminded those who are ill to, when possible, call the hospital before seeking care to help avoid a sudden influx of patients.

“We’re seeing more cases of people who have flu and COVID and other illnesses and injuries,” she said. “That’s why we are always reminding people to call ahead first before seeking care, unless they are in a life threatening emergency, to prevent spread of flu, COVID an other infectious illnesses.”

To curb the second wave of cases, Murphy revealed a new executive order Thursday granting counties and towns the authority to force nonessential businesses to close at 8 p.m. if they choose.


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