In the Time of Covid: Holy Name’s History in the Making (Q&A)

A gripping piece of narrative nonfiction, "In the Time of Covid" is organizational history in the making.

Organizational histories can take the form of history in the making. Such is the case with In the Time of Covid, available in print and ebook formats at https://amzn.to/2KnN1Jj. It highlights how Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, NJ, navigated in the epicenter of the first wave of Covid-19. Paul Rosengren, a highly experienced corporate communicator, co-wrote the book with Adam Jarrett, MD, Holy Name’s Chief Medical Officer. They use stories and easy-to-understand language to provide information on the origins of Covid-19, current treatments and studies, and they share lessons learned. I found the book 100% fascinating.

I’ve known Paul since my second corporate history writing project, the centennial book for PSEG/Public Service Electric & Gas, where he was a communications executive for several years. He graciously shared details about this most worthwhile project.

Marian Calabro: How would you briefly describe In the Time of Covid ? Paul Rosengren: It captures the innovation, creativity, and help from unexpected people and places that allowed Holy Name Medical Center to handle the growing number of dead, secure PPE and equipment, completely redesign the hospital, and treat what seemed like unending waves of new Covid-19 patients.

MC: How did the project come about? PR: Early in June, we were having two families over for a socially distant meeting in our backyard. One of the guests was Adam Jarrett, Chief Medical Officer for Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey. The other guests were peppering him with questions about Covid and what he was seeing at the hospital. He was telling stories and mixing in facts in a way that was entertaining and informative. I suggested that he write a book. After some back and forth, we decided to consider writing it together. A few days later he came by, and for more than four hours he spoke of events during the pandemic while I took notes. A week later, we had completed what became our first chapter – the trip to CNN. Three weeks after that, we decided that there was enough compelling material for a book.

MC: What was the process for writing? PR: I began each session by interviewing Adam on a topic – be it the treatments he himself would want if he got Covid-19, how the hospital utilized a simulation room or the pros and cons of vaccinations. Probably 80 to 90 percent of the book started as Adam orally retelling his experiences. I think that is why his voice comes through so well. I was always on the lookout for interesting tangents – like the man from Arkansas who came and lived in the parking lot for a month, Adam’s discovery of “Covid Toes,” or how the founding of the hospital 100 years ago was connected to the pandemic of today. I would write up the conversation and begin to give it a structure and take a stab at a chapter, including follow-up questions. He would respond and edit. We then let the chapters sit for a few days and regrouped for a read-through together. We let the material sit again, and then reconvened for a line-by-line read aloud revision. Finally, we sought editing suggestions by others. On average, the chapters went back and forth an average of five or six times.

MC: Was it difficult not having a background in medicine? PR: Actually, I think it was helpful. Adam is a good storyteller and explained things well, but sometimes he would slip into medical jargon. If I couldn’t understand something, I would ask him to explain it again and would let him know the terminology that confused me. I think the end result is an accessible book that deals with a complex subject.

MC: What were the intended audiences and how have you reached them? PR: Clearly the most interest in the book has come from those closely associated with Holy Name Medical Center: staff, patients and members of the surrounding community. However, we have been excited by the appeal of the book for employees at other hospitals, people who have lived through Covid, and really anyone who wants a good grounding in the facts of Covid while having an enjoyable and uplifting read. One doctor we heard from (not from Holy Name) said he wished it were required reading for everyone at his hospital. We also cover Adam’s medical philosophy and offer public health policy, so we hope it will be read by policy makers at the state and federal level.

MC: How are sales going? I’m a layperson who has had family treated at Holy Name (not for Covid, thankfully), and I found the book to be a wonderful piece of “About Us” history as well as a great piece of narrative nonfiction. Kudos, too, on the photos, taken by Holy Name photographer Jeff Rhode. PR: We have a print version on Amazon as well as a Kindle — and we’re currently selling 10 times more paper books than e-books.

MC: Great to know. Thanks, Paul.

Holy Name Medical Center during the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic: Hospital employee Jesus Villaluz passed from COVID-19 and employees lined the hall as a tribute, while he was taken from the ICU by David Van Bever, Director of Environmental Services at the hospital.
Photo date: 04/07/2020. Photo courtesy of Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center; usage by permission only.