When Kevin Seta, director of public safety for Jefferson Health New Jersey, was forced to confront the pandemic in March 2020 after 21 months on the job, he didn’t panic.
In fact, a steady hand gained through time spent working with emergency management in Cherry Hill prepared him for the herculean task of dealing with the daily response to the pandemic in its early months, then organizing distribution at Jefferson’s Voorhees Vaccine Center to all of the company’s health-care workers.
For that effort, Seta was named in early August as a recipient of the organization’s Living Our Values Award. It recognizes employees who demonstrate Jefferson’s behaviors and values of putting people first, being bold and thinking differently and doing the right thing.
“Kevin has put his heart and soul into the Vaccine Center, making sure all the details were perfect,” said Helene Burns, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Jefferson. “As a result, it has become a very positive experience for employees, patients, and their family members.”
Seta started out as a dispatcher in the Cherry Hill Police Department in December 1997 and worked his way through the ranks over a two decade career. But it wasn’t until his experiences with township municipal services and local government during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 that he earned his stripes in crisis management.
“It was an experience for sure, a precedent setting one,” Seta admitted during an Aug. 23 conversation with the Sun. “The police department, fire department, mayor’s office and board of education all came together, and there were a lot of sharp folks in one room working through that disaster.”
Although Seta didn’t have to make key logistical decisions — and deferred to the above entities — he was the one who had to listen and then delegate as leader of daily briefings.
“I’m there, coordinating facts, information, talking to other municipalities, folks that are high level in departments, and then also talking to the folks on the ground, doing the evacuations, up to working with the National Guard,” he explained.
“I was the center of the wheel, and I directed the response, which were the spokes, in how to deal with everything.”
Since the start of COVID, Seta has performed the same duties as a member of Jefferson’s Incident Command Team. He was instrumental in collecting important data to submit to the state, including the number of available beds and ventilators. And when health-care workers were granted immediate access to the first vaccines around the holidays, Seta already had a sketch of a plan in place. All that was left was to work around any problems related to logistics of location, manpower and process.
First was a meeting with the larger Jefferson Enterprise Group days before Thanksgiving. A gathering of New Jersey decision makers was held on Dec. 4. to discuss how and where the vaccine would be distributed to staff.
“We decided on setting up ‘point of distribution’ sites, and that was something I did previously with emergency management. It was in my wheelhouse,” Seta noted. “I began to contact state, county and local workers to get things organized and to get a lot of them done fast.”
Calling the development of the operation “a matter of repetition and refining,” Seta set out for his crack crew to see how fast they could get through the process from check-in to walk-out, test it, test it again, and go through the whole process until it was acceptably refined.
“We went through on site with three or four dry runs before we liked what we were seeing in terms of check-ins and time,” he said.
Jefferson held a soft opening for the vaccine center on Dec. 14, when just 30 people were given the shots. Another test run was held to refine the procedure, ahead of a hard opening eight days later with vaccines in hand.
Even after months of overseeing a location for the general public to receive their jabs, Seta hasn’t had time to cool off, take a breath and power down.
“I have kids, so really, my relaxing was watching them play sports, like soccer and football,” he offered. “I’ve coached sports since my kids were young, when they played the usual stuff like little league, football, soccer. That’s about it.”
On the day of Seta’s Sun interview, Gov. Phil Murphy decreed that all public and private school employees, including teachers, would be required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or undergo regular testing at a minimum of once to twice each week.
Seta said he and Jefferson are ready for an expected increase in vaccine appointments.
“Hopefully we see that increase, the more people get vaccinated, the better,” he said. “We’re prepared. We still have our clinic run by our outpatient folks. We can do up to 500 per day, but we don’t see those numbers lately because so many got theirs back in the spring.”