Partners in a Pandemic

Former COVID-19 patient Leola Hill made great progress at Spring Hills Post Acute Care in Livingston, which partnered with Saint Barnabas Medical Center.


A subacute facility provided essential help as covid-19 cases continued to increase.

On April 10, East Orange resident Leola Hill, 67, was struggling with many of the symptoms of COVID-19—fever, difficulty breathing, loss of taste and smell. She and her daughter met via telemedicine with a doctor who recommended that Leola go to the Emergency Department (ED) at Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC).

After evaluation in the ED, she was admitted to SBMC, weak, tired and in need of supplemental oxygen 24/7. “To be honest with you, I felt I was close to death but I was so miserable that I didn’t care,” Leola recalls.

The story has a happy ending: By May 2, Leola was well enough to be discharged to neighboring Spring Hills Post Acute Care of Livingston for rehabilitation, and by May 16 she was able to go home.

Along her journey, Leola had the benefit of an extraordinary partnership between SBMC and Spring Hills.


In March, as cases of COVID-19 were rising rapidly in New Jersey, Alexander Markowits, CEO of Spring Hills, and the leadership team at Spring Hills Livingston began to discuss ways they could help. “We saw how the pandemic was progressing, so we thought we could be useful by extending a place for patients at Saint Barnabas Medical Center,” says Jesse Palma, Regional Director of Business Development for Spring Hills. Their idea: After safely discharging their existing patients, they could convert all 124 of their private rooms for COVID-19 patients.

“The beauty of it was that they saw the need and came to us proactively,” says Bridget Keyes, RN, BSN, Administrative Director of Case Management at SBMC. “We had so many patients to care for, and because of this partnership we were able to keep them all under Saint Barnabas Medical Center care instead of having to send them to a field hospital set up by the state.”

Working with medical leadership at SBMC, Spring Hills Livingston converted its rooms for COVID-19 and increased its staffing. The two organizations worked hand in hand. At one point, SBMC provided personal protective equipment for Spring Hills. At another, Spring Hills loaned SBMC 15 beds. After the peak of the pandemic had passed, Spring Hills accepted non-COVID patients from SBMC as well.

“We have profound gratitude for the teamwork of Saint Barnabas Medical Center and Spring Hills,” says Stephen P. Zieniewicz, FACHE, President and CEO of SBMC. “Thanks to this partnership, we were able to keep true to our mission of compassionate care, healthcare excellence and superior service.”


When Leola Hill got to Spring Hills, she was able to sit up in bed and to feed herself, but not much more. “I couldn’t go to the bathroom on my own, wash myself or dress myself,” she recalls. “But mentally, I was ready to do whatever it would take to go home.” She received visits right away from her physical, occupational and speech therapists, “and by the next day, everything was rolling,” she says.

Now back at home with her daughter, she’s “100 percent better, though still not 100 percent back to where I was,” she says. “I’ve come a very long way and I feel blessed to be alive. And I’m so grateful to everyone at Saint Barnabas Medical Center and at Spring Hills. They all did their jobs so well, and that’s why I’m here today.”

For information about programs and services available at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, visit