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Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Cape Regional Receives Federal Funds to Buy Covid, Radiology Equipment

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez

By Karen Knight

COURT HOUSE – Cape Regional Medical Center received a $989,300 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Emergency Rural Health Care (ERHC) grant to purchase equipment to outfit nine Covid treatment bays with a negative pressure unit air handling system and dedicated radiology equipment.
The grant was announced Aug. 11 by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), representatives from USDA Rural Development and the medical center. The grant will be used as part of the center’s $19.9-million expansion of the emergency and radiology departments that are expected to open in early 2024. 
The medical center started a $12-million capital campaign last December, which now totals $4.3 million with the addition of the grant.
“We all know our health care systems struggled even before the pandemic, but when Covid first landed, it hit rural providers especially hard, putting them under financial stress unlike anything they had ever seen,” said Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, which sets national health policy. 
“That’s why the ERHC Grant Program is so important,” he added. “This program provides relief to rural hospitals like Cape Regional, helping them stay open to provide essential care, while also expanding the services they provide to the community, like a new Covid wing.”
Thomas Piratzky, executive director, Cape Regional Foundation, explained, “Best practice for airborne-spread infections is to place the patient in a negative airflow pressure unit to reduce the spread of the disease. Extra air is pumped into these rooms to push contaminants away from entering. Negative pressure, sucking air out of the room, is used to pull any potential contaminants out of an area and exhaust them to the outside air. Negative room pressure is an isolation technique used in hospitals to prevent cross-contamination from room to room.”
The grant will also be used to buy equipment, including CT scan, X-ray, and ultrasound, to reduce waiting times for testing and diagnoses and provide “more efficient, personalized, high-quality care to the residents and visitors of Cape May County.”
Wait times can vary from day-to-day, depending on the number of patients, season of the year, and the severity of the patients both admitted to the medical center and those presenting to the Emergency Department (ED), according to Piratzky. 
“With dedicated radiology equipment for the ED, we will see a decrease in the wait time for radiology procedures, as we will have double the radiology capacity,” he added.
During the Covid pandemic, Cape Regional Medical Center treated 338 Covid inpatients and had 318 ED Covid visits in 2020; 591 Covid inpatients and 840 ED Covid visits in 2021; and 402 Covid inpatients and 673 ED Covid visits year-to-date (Aug. 11), according to Piratzky.
He cautioned, however, to “please keep in mind that early in the pandemic, we were not able to test many patients who may have had Covid, so the 2020 inpatient and ED numbers are definitely an underestimate.” 
Joaquin Altoro, administrator, Rural Housing Services, USDA, noted that when “rural residents thrive with access to quality health care, America thrives. We’ve seen what happens when health care facilities close. Everyone should have access to quality health care.”
“Investing in health care and community facilities contributes to the overall well-being, economic development, and sustainability of rural America,” he added. 
The medical center did not share in $12 billion given to 395 hospitals nationwide in May 2020 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Covid-related expenses, nor in $10 billion awarded to “rural” hospitals. Menendez said he fought and successfully changed the meaning of “rural,” so the center could qualify.
“Everyone is entitled to quality health care,” he added. “It doesn’t matter what zip code they live in. We saw more than 100 rural hospitals close their doors during the pandemic, as they were hit particularly hard with financial stresses they hadn’t seen before. Two-and-a-half years after Covid, we want to ensure our responsibilities and have lifesaving support and systems when they are needed.”
The grant announcement comes on the heels of the center’s announcement that it will be ending maternity and childbirth care after Sept. 15 because of the departure of one of the two OB-GYN doctors connected with Cape Regional. 
The hospital has said that it will continue its efforts to find a replacement doctor and hopes to reopen maternity care in the future. Piratzky said “talks are underway” but would not elaborate.
State records show that Cape Regional delivered 259 babies in 2021, per a previous Herald report. 
Have any thoughts and/or information on this story? Email kknight@cmcherald.com.

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