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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

These are First Responders: Robert Robinson and Julie Ann Ziegler

Jennifer Ersalesi

Photos submitted by Robert Robinson

Robert Robinson

Rutherford resident, Robert Robinson, is the Director of the Emergency and Trauma Department at Hackensack University Medical Center. He and his wife, Sergeant Julie Ann Ziegler of the Rutherford Police Department, are both first responders and are working hard to protect their family, friends, co-workers, and the community at large. This is Rutherford spoke with Robert about his career, his professional and personal experience with COVID-19, and the hope that the community has brought to him during these trying times.

TIR: How did your hospital prepare for coronavirus cases?

Robert Robinson: Hackensack started preparations very early. Our infection prevention department and leadership knew it was not “if” we were going to get patients but when. Education on the virus and the protocols we would be utilizing for the safety of the patient, visitors, and the staff was provided. The Emergency room had key questions to ask patients that arrived to help us identify any suspected cases and once a suspected case presented we initiated our safety protocols.

TIR: What kind of PPE do you wear? Is there a shortage?

RR: We wear isolation gowns, gloves, N95 face masks, and face shields. PPE is always available, especially due to the fact that preparation began so early in the organization. I also believe that thanks to the generous donations from the public and local organizations, we were also able to avoid any shortages. I consider anyone that donated even a single mask or a meal also a hero. We are in this together.

TIR: What are the biggest challenges you are currently facing at work right now?

RR: All the hard work that the hospital staff continues to do is amazing. They took on the challenges, adapted to the situations that would occur, and overcame to treat all our patients. The challenges we largely faced are starting to become behind us as we begin to look towards the future. We recently discharged our 1000th COVID-19 patient. That was quite the emotional time to see that happen, and shows how resilient and dedicated the staff is!

Hallway at HUMC with positive notes and letters

TIR: What can lay people do to best support healthcare workers at this time?

RR: The layperson can continue to follow what the government leaders and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have put in place for their safety and ours. Donation of food and signs and words of support are so uplifting, you have no idea how a full belly makes you ready for the next round! The signs and letters we receive are inspiring and uplifting. We place them on our walls throughout the hospital. They are a constant reminder of why we do what we do!!

TIR: What have you seen in your community or at work that brings you hope?

RR: I have seen so much in our community. The Rutherford First Aid Ambulance Corps, the Police Department, and Fire Department are all dedicated and committed to serving each visitor and citizen of Rutherford. They have not shied away from their duties. They are all heroes in my books and I’m glad to work alongside them all these years.

The signs on the lawns and in the windows with words of support are so wonderful and bring such a feeling to my heart as I pass them on my way to Hackensack.

The support that our local businesses are receiving from the community is amazing, and the support the local businesses are giving not only to the frontlines but to the community is truly inspiring.

That is what makes me love Rutherford so much. It is a small community with the biggest heart I have ever seen.

Sign in front of Borough Hall (Photo credit: Borough Facebook page)

TIR: As someone who is putting his life on the line each day, how do you remain motivated and driven to take care of the patients that enter the hospital?

RR: My motivation comes from a few things. I became ill and hospitalized with COVID during the peak of the pandemic. Initially, my wife Julie Ann (Sergeant on the Rutherford Police Department) helped me with the illness, and I must add she truly made me realize the importance of “in sickness and in health” with the love and care she gave me, I can never truly overstate or find the right words to express my love for her. As my health deteriorated, my wife called for an Ambulance, the Rutherford Ambulance Corps responded immediately and took me to my own ER where the hospital staff saved my life.

When I returned I was even more driven to help the patients and work alongside my coworkers who were unwavering in the face of this invisible enemy. The public support, the love of my wife, family, and friends, and the responsibility I have as a leader and a nurse are what keeps me going.

TIR: What do you want people to understand about protecting their health and their families’ health during this time?

RR: I want people to understand that while we are seeing the curve flatten, remain vigilant, wash your hands, wear your masks, be responsible and socially distance yourself. I also want people to remember that you still have to take care of yourself. If you are having chest pain, shortness of breath, or get hurt in accident or fall, seek help. Don’t let the fear of COVID-19 keep you from seeking the right medical attention, the Emergency Room and hospital is still open and ready to help you keep getting better.

Sgt. Julie Ann Ziegler and Robert Robinson

Sergeant Julie Ann Ziegler has been a Sergeant with the Rutherford Police Department for almost six years and is the wife of Robert Robinson. As someone who is married to someone who is a healthcare worker and someone who also works on the front lines, This is Rutherford spoke with her about her experiences as the spouse of a healthcare worker and as a first responder during this Pandemic crisis.

TIR: As the spouse of a healthcare worker, there must be feelings of both pride and concern right now. How do you balance the two?

Julie Ann Ziegler: Saying I am proud of my husband Robert and his medical teams at both Hackensack University Medical Center and NJSEA is an understatement. Since the age of seventeen, he has served the Borough of Rutherford as a member of the Rutherford Volunteer Ambulance Corps. Later in life, he joined both the Rutherford Volunteer Fire Department and Rutherford Municipal Alliance. Robert has always put the needs of others before his so when the coronavirus struck our area I wasn’t surprised that he increased his hours and spent every day and night working at the hospital. Robert is passionate about treating patients with compassion and dignity as well as paving the path for others to do the same.

Our concern for both of our well-being was increased as the coronavirus began ravaging our area. We began living on separate floors of our home to decrease the chance of cross-contamination to each other in late-February. This, to some, was seen as extreme and to us, it was weird. Imagine FaceTiming from floor one to floor two in the same house just to spend time together responsibly? As time passed my husband was exposed to and contracted COVID-19. In the beginning, he remained home and I cared for him daily before he was hospitalized. Our “weird” separation proved beneficial. I was able to disinfect and deep clean the second floor after he was transported to the hospital at my own pace One that allowed me to maintain my own health. After his hospital stay, he returned home to rest. Again, we were back to living on separate floors. Throughout this time in our lives, my concern for his health and well-being was understandably amplified during the course of his illness and hospitalization as I was not allowed to visit.

Student artwork- Mrs Cruz's Art class at The Academy at St. Mary, Photo Credit: RPD Facebook page

TIR: What can lay people do to best support healthcare workers and their families right now?

JAZ: Stay home as much as you can and listen to the CDC guidelines and Executive Orders issued by the Governor. Wear your mask and social distance. Be an active participant in slowing the spread of coronavirus. Not everyone gets a mild case of the virus and our healthcare heroes are witnessing severe cases and watching many of our families, friends, neighbors, and others die alone. Think of the trauma that causes them day in and day out. Do your part to reduce their stress. Be kind. Drop a card of encouraging words in their mailbox. Have a meal delivered. Decorate their front door. Be considerate and keep in mind that they work 24/7 and have very different sleeping patterns than most.

TIR: Do you have any advice for other spouses and family members of healthcare workers?

JAZ: Listen as much as you can and be supportive. If they need time alone, don’t take it personally. Let them breathe and relax. Time to decompress is vital. They are experiencing tougher, more physically, and emotionally taxing days than most people are right now. This might be the toughest, darkest days they have ever experienced. Handle the mundane chores around the house and with your children so that they don’t have as much to worry about when they come home. Make the simple decisions - pick what you’ll eat for dinner. Prepare nutritious meals. Have a hot shower or bath ready for them as they walk in the door. Put a loving note in their scrub pocket or car as a surprise. Your words just might be their only reason smile that day.

Student drawing -Mrs. Cruz's Art Class at The Academy of St. Mary. Photo credit: RPD Facebook page

TIR: You are also a first responder as a Sergeant in the Rutherford Police Department, what do you want people to understand about the role of the members of your department during this health crisis?

JAZ: Our role is primarily the same. What has changed is how we have had to adapt to this unprecedented health crisis. Early in March, Chief John R. Russo put precautions in place to protect both our sworn and civilian staff. Both the detective bureau and traffic officers have been placed into uniform patrol. This created two extra squads and allows our agency to work with decreased chances of cross-contamination. Disinfecting the building and patrol cars is a priority, a new routine, and a new norm. Honestly, I do believe we will continue to disinfect for the foreseeable future. We now UV light both the rooms inside the building and our patrol cars throughout each shift and after use. The new role we have taken on is infection prevention. Our actions have led to us remaining healthy and keeping our community and families safe. Our well-being has a direct effect on our concerned families, co-workers, and community and visitors who need our services.

In addition, we also have modified how we handle calls for service by screening the initial call thoroughly. There is fewer face to face type responses and when we do respond it is now minimally, mask to mask. Many calls are handled by phone and e-mail to prevent potential exposure to COVID-19. This is not to say that we don’t respond to calls for service. We very much do. However, each call is assessed on a case by case basis. When absolutely necessary complainants are taken inside headquarters and must come in wearing a mask while social distancing. Once they leave, there are no exceptions, we disinfect the door handles, hallways, and room(s) they were in as well as our uniforms and exposed skin. Social distancing is now a regular daily routine. And yes, it feels odd and we miss interacting with the public by sharing a smile and a handshake but it is necessary.

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