This Is Rutherford
This is Cheryl Fittizzi
By Jennifer Ersalesi
For thirty-one years, Cheryl Fittizzi has been part of the medical community as a Registered Nurse. After working in the clinical research field for twenty years, Cheryl became the Vice-President of Research and Regulatory Affairs at Hackensack Meridian in 2016. Since the pandemic began, Cheryl’s knowledge and expertise in the area of clinical research have been paramount in both the treatment and the decreased spread of COVID-19. This is Rutherford spoke with Cheryl about her role at Hackensack Meridian and what she has learned during this extremely challenging time.
TIR: What does your role as VP of Research and Regulatory Affairs at Hackensack Meridian entail?
Cheryl Fittizzi: My role includes oversight of clinical research operations and regulatory affairs for Hackensack Meridian Health Network. Currently, there are over 1200 clinical trials throughout our healthcare system. The types of trials vary from oncology, heart and vascular, pediatrics, orthopedics, neuro, and infectious disease.
TIR: How has your role changed during the pandemic?
CF: The role of clinical research was vital in the treatment of COVID-19. We were faced with a sudden and debilitating virus in which there was no known treatment. We needed to look for scientifically sound research studies to be able to offer to our patients without our network. I’m proud to say that we did exactly that. We were able to bring groundbreaking and extremely innovative research studies to our patients. We enrolled over 1000 patients in clinical trials throughout our network. It is a good feeling to know that we were able to offer our patient population options.
TIR: You and your team made it a goal to support one another and learn from each other to deliver the best care to COVID-19 patients. How do you feel you were successful in doing so?
CF: I’m proud to say that our research endeavor was a true team effort. We quickly had joined forces and were “100% all-in". A group of scientific experts across our network reviewed all options of clinical research and agreed to move the best high impact studies forward. It truly was a team effort.
TIR: COVID related trials were and are so important. Epic screening tools enabled physicians and clinical teams to refer more patients for trials. How did these screening tools help your team assist more patients?
CF: This is a pretty complicated question but I will give it a shot. ...Our electronic medical record system (Epic) was utilized during the COVID surge by allowing an automated process for treating physicians to electronically notify our research teams when they felt a patient would qualify for a research study.
TIR: What have you discovered about yourself and your team as you have dealt with this pandemic crisis?
CF: I always knew I worked with a great team. During the COVID surge, my team demonstrated just how professional, knowledgeable, innovative, and dedicated they are. I’m very proud of each of them. It is important to mention that the staff worked around the clock and were available anytime needed to assist during this crisis. All while managing their own family responsibilities with school and daycares closed.
TIR: What do people who are working on the frontlines and behind the scenes of this pandemic need from their communities right now?
CF: During the COVID surge the gifts received from our community such as food, Girl Scout cookies, snacks, masks, ear savers, booties, and so many other nice things were so appreciated by our frontline staff. Now that we have the surge behind us the best thing that the community can do to support frontline worked is to continue to keep this virus under control by social distancing, hand washing, and masking.
TIR: What do you hope people understand about COVID and COVID research trials?
CF: What I want people to understand is that this virus was very real. I have been a registered nurse for 31 years and have never seen anything like this. The impact on our hospitals was extreme. The response of clinical research in COVID-19 was first to react to patients that were sick and now our focus has shifted to prevention. We are now enrolling in COVID-19 vaccine trials.
TIR: How long have you lived in Rutherford and what do you enjoy about living here?
CF: I have lived in Rutherford since 2002. I grew up in Lyndhurst and attended St Mary’s. Rutherford is and always was a simply beautiful town. I love Park Avenue, our parks, our July 4th Baby Parade, fireworks, street fairs, Rutherford Junior Football, Recreation sports, and Dining Under the Stars. I have raised my three children here, Danielle(23), Anthony (20), and Ava Clare (10) Dubenezic. I am proud of our schools and everything our community has to offer.