Research & Innovation

In Coronavirus Fight, N.J. Hospital Draws Strength from Stevens Research

Student Projects, Under Business School's Direction, Are Helping Monmouth Medical Center as it Confronts Crisis

In the battle against COVID-19, there are a lot of heroes in the healthcare community — from doctors, nurses and EMTs treating patients, to researchers desperately working on a cure, to custodial teams who keep spaces clean to halt the spread of the virus.

For a large hospital, you either have a sense of esprit de corps that comes from a shared mission and values that are felt in both ordinary and extraordinary times — or you don’t. Monmouth Medical Center, a safety-net hospital in Long Branch, NJ, is meeting the challenges posed by the coronavirus thanks to the strength of its values, as well as an important assist by students and faculty at Stevens Institute of Technology.

Stevens students, under the direction of Dr. Donald Lombardi, a healthcare leadership expert in the School of Business, have built a series of modules that Monmouth uses in training its staff and caring for diverse patient populations. The hospital’s leadership is leaning on the work of these students from the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.

Course of Action: Effective Leadership in Times of Crisis

“Even during this very challenging time, we are getting daily communication from the leadership at Monmouth Medical Center that our work is of timely benefit at ‘The Big M,’ even in this challenging time, and that they are very appreciative that we will continue our rock solid partnership into this summer and beyond,” Dr. Lombardi said. 

Much of this work is made possible through funding from the Nicholson Foundation, which has provided support to the School of Business and the Stevens Healthcare Educational Partnership — which Dr. Lombardi runs — to find innovative ways to reduce costs and improve the quality of care at New Jersey’s urban nonprofit safety-net hospitals.

A group of students, faculty and hospital employees in the Monmouth Medical Center boardroom.Dr. Donald Lombardi, right, with a team of Stevens students, faculty and leadership from Monmouth Medical Center during a student presentation in 2014. Immediately to Dr. Lombardi's left is Diann Johnston, now vice president of patient care at the hospital; Dr. Tal Ben-Zvi, an associate professor of management, is at far left.

“When we originally innovated the design concept and the implement plan for the educational modules of the grant work, I had high expectations that we would provide our safety net urban partner hospitals with relevant and resonant resources,” Dr. Lombardi said. “However, COVID-19 rapidly moved this from a ‘good to do’ endeavor to a ‘must do’ mission, and our terrific Stevens students — as they always do — rose to the occasion, all to the benefit of our heroic community partners who are on the front lines.”

Here are the stories of some Stevens students whose work has helped Monmouth Medical Center advance its mission.

Rachel Bailey ’21

What does the history of a hospital have to do with the way it fights pandemics now and in the future? 

Headshot of Rachel BaileyRachel Bailey '21.

The answer might surprise you, especially if the hospital in question was on the front lines of battling polio in the 1940s and 50s. Monmouth’s Jersey Shore location meant heavy tourist traffic, with many of those visitors bringing the disease and sharing it with others. 

That’s why Monmouth uses a module that Rachel Bailey, who’s studying Marketing Innovation & Analytics in the School of Business, worked on as part of a research internship with Dr. Lombardi. 

“Kind of a common theme throughout its history is Monmouth Medical Center’s sense of belonging in its community, even as it’s grown in size,” Bailey said.

Recalling Monmouth’s response to polio in the age of COVID-19 is an important motivator for all the hospital’s employees, which is why her orientation model is so important to the hospital. 

“The hospital’s history is inspiring and is filled with overcoming challenges,” she said. “The new staff and volunteers coming in should have a lot of pride in being part of Monmouth Medical Center.”

Read Rachel's story

Elizabeth Chu ’22

Limiting the spread of the coronavirus has caused medical teams to take some dire steps — like, in some cases, separating patients from their families while on their deathbeds. 

Headshot of Elizabeth ChuElizabeth Chu '22.

In such moments of heartbreak, the need for high emotional intelligence is most keenly felt, said Elizabeth Chu, a premed student who’s pursuing a major in chemical biology and a minor in Marketing.

“Oftentimes, you’re now seeing nurses having to be the support system for patients in their last moments,” Chu said. “Empathy is so important in emotional intelligence, as well as the ability to understand those nonverbal cues and communicate with others.” 

Chu’s module offers hospital staff a deep dive into how to improve their emotional intelligence, through self management, relationship management, personal wellness and positivity. Her materials offer several real examples in how to better work with others and cultivate a stronger sense of empathy. 

“Just doing this research on emotional intelligence has taught me to be a better leader and communicator myself,” she said. “I learned to think a lot about how I want to present myself and how to form relationships with not just patients, but with coworkers as well.”

Read Elizabeth's story

Jordan Eisenberg

How does a Tulane University grad student show up in a story about Stevens’ impact in healthcare? 

Headshot of Jordan EisenbergJordan Eisenberg.

Well, through Dr. Lombardi, of course.

Introduced through a family connection, Eisenberg, now in her second year of med school, worked with Dr. Lombardi on what became a module to train healthcare workers at Monmouth to better serve women and children. 

She originally saw herself going into obstetrics, but Eisenberg said her work on this project has her now looking at populations — especially women and children — as she thinks about how to specialize. Working alongside Dr. Lombardi also put leadership on her radar, which “would allow me to make an impact in a different way than just as a physician.”

Women and children, she said, “are an inherently vulnerable population, and right now, pregnant women are especially at risk — not just for themselves, but for the lives of their unborn children.” 

The pandemic, she said, underscores the difficulty this population has in accessing healthcare right now. While mothers-to-be need medical services throughout their pregnancies, “it’s not safe for them to go to the grocery store right now, let alone the hospital,” she said. “My research still has a lot of unanswered questions of how this population can overcome these inherent disadvantages.” 

Read Jordan's story

Penelope Halkiadakis ’19

After graduating Stevens with a bachelor’s in Biology and a graduate certificate in Healthcare Management & Leadership, Penelope Halkiadakis timed her gap year with the arrival and disruption wrought by the coronavirus. 

Penelope Halkiadakis headshotPenelope Halkiadakis '19.

Now, as she chooses among her 10 admits to begin med school, she’s had time to reflect on her own project for Monmouth — a module that helps caregivers treat patients who speak limited, or no, English. It teaches doctors, nurses and others how to quickly build trust with patients who speak Spanish and to treat them effectively. 

“Something I learned from this project is that it is not realistic to think that every single employee in a hospital or health system is going to learn to speak Spanish, or be multilingual,” she said. “A hospital system needs to have multiple entry points, so that healthcare providers can start building relationships and trust with their patients.” 

Halkiadakis has a strong sense of social justice — she started the Amnesty International chapter on Stevens — and said that interest helped fuel her research work, especially in the current climate surrounding immigration. 

“The Latinx community is already uncomfortable with going into the hospital. Then you’re in a crisis, like COVID-19, that illuminates inequities in the healthcare system,” she said. “When you have this patient population that's particularly vulnerable and marginalized in the healthcare system, you need to have physicians who know how to communicate with them at multiple levels — and that begins with overcoming the language barrier.”

Read Penelope's story