Editor’s note: This article was written by Jeanne Long for Rutgers-Camden News Now
As a paramedic, Joseph Lutz plays a vital role in treating the sick and injured in emergencies, but during the coronavirus pandemic, his job has evolved into handling patient care in a hospital and performing an administrative role in setting up a field hospital in Secaucus.
When coronavirus cases began rising in New Jersey, the Rutgers University‒Camden biology student was mainly performing his usual paramedic duties at University Hospital in Newark, where he is employed.
By early April, the hospital’s emergency department was overwhelmed with patients with COVID-19, so the hospital re-assigned Lutz and other paramedics to assist nurses.
“I was working in our emergency dispatch center, when we received a call from hospital administration stating that the situation in the emergency department was dire,” says Lutz, of Bellmawr. “There were many extremely sick patients, and not enough nurses.”
That day, he spent eight hours attending to patients on ventilators.
During the coronavirus pandemic, as the need skyrocketed for hospital beds for extremely sick patients, New Jersey received federal assistance to create the Federal Medical Shelter (FMS) located in Secaucus. Since early April, Lutz has been intimately involved in the operations of FMS and the North Region Medical Coordination Center, a space created after Sept. 11, 2001, to coordinate medical response to major medical situations. Lutz and his colleagues facilitated moving more than 250 patients from northern New Jersey hospitals to the shelter to make space for more seriously ill patients who required treatment in a hospital.
“There is no doubt that this process of opening up hospital beds for sicker patients saved lives,” says Lutz.
A Bellmawr native, Lutz lived in South Jersey until his first year of high school, when he and his mother moved to North Brunswick.
As a teenager, Lutz became interested in helping others. With his sharp technical skills, he became a website designer in high school, earning enough money to help his mom pay their living expenses. While he continued designing websites, he decided to drop out of school. In 2002, he earned his GED.
After working as an emergency medical technician at Bellmawr EMS for several years, Lutz attended Camden County College to complete a paramedic training certificate program. His success in class inspired him to further his education, earning an associate’s degree in applied sciences as he continued working full-time as a paramedic at Bellmawr EMS.
He returned to Camden County College in 2012 to study biology, but working full-time at night and attending classes full-time during the day, left him little time for sleep, so he dropped out for several years, got married, and then returned to school full-time. He completed his associate’s degree in biology in 2018, six years after he started.
He credits his Rutgers‒Camden education in giving him experience in research and data analysis.
Lutz was among the MCC health care professionals who appeared at Gov. Phil Murphy’s daily televised coronavirus briefing on May 9 to present information about the center’s operations and plasma treatment for COVID-19 patients at University Hospital. Lutz created two of the charts that the president/CEO of University Hospital, Shereef Elnahal, presented at Gov. Murphy’s briefing.
“A few years ago, I would have been of little more use than providing patient care – which is also very important,” says Lutz. “Today, I am able to take on an administrative role and influence the care and outcomes of many more patients because of what I have learned from Rutgers‒Camden professors.
As Lutz receives his bachelor of science degree in biology and health science from Rutgers‒Camden, it is not the end of his formal education. He plans to attend medical school to become a physician.