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Former Rangers conditioning coach helping hospital fight COVID-19

Grant leans on NHL experience in role at New Jersey medical center

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Reg Grant has been applying his 17 years of experience working for the New York Rangers to help a New Jersey hospital manage its influx of COVID-19 patients.

Grant, the strength and conditioning coach for the Rangers from 2002-19, took over as the director of human performance at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey in September. Six months later, Holy Name became one of the hardest hit hospitals in the United States with coronavirus patients, forcing Grant to adjust his role on the fly.

"It's quite the shift," Grant said. "It's certainly different going from the run of a hockey season to an initial part of healthcare, which had a different pace to it, and now to this, where it's the playoffs but with an exponential psychological impact. But the feeling is of immense satisfaction to be part of a team that does this."

Although his team, and the opponent, have changed, Grant said much of what he's doing now traces back to what he did for years with the Rangers, especially when it comes to adapting and advancing.

He's had to handle many responsibilities, such as moving from human performance to helping to direct hospital performance when the pandemic hit.

Grant immediately went into a logistics role and was part of a team working in a central command center to help doctors and nurses get the equipment and supplies they needed.

That morphed into helping the hospital and working with contractors to find ways to use existing space to build more patient care areas and safer spaces for doctors and nurses to work with patients.

He's now back on the human performance side, helping Holy Name ramp up telehealth programs to tend to approximately 5,000 patients while also working internally to aid the hospital staff in recovery and regeneration with physical, nutritional and emotional support.

"Everything about what I've been through and trained for is about psychology, is about people, is about problem solving, is about pace and intensity and change," Grant said. "Regular season has a regular flow, but when you get into playoffs and you get down to elite athletics, it's about adapting to change, psychology, getting people to move together as a team. Over the years with the Rangers we really got to a point where we built out a team approach to how do we get people to perform while understanding stress, pressure, psychology, food, nutrition, external stresses like family. So I was basically in an incubator with extreme work on individuals of how do we problem solve, how do we improve somebody's ability to be better on a team. That is exactly this. The content is different, but pressure, pace, adapting to change, integration into a team, helping everybody succeed in the end is all the same stuff. Athletics has applications across everything."

That Grant has managed to adapt and help others do the same through the coronavirus pandemic comes as no surprise to some of the players he used to work with in New York.

"I wasn't with him for long, but long enough to realize how great of a human he is," said Martin St. Louis, the Hall of Fame forward who played with the Rangers from 2014-15. "Always looking to help. Very selfless."

Former Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said he recently spoke to Grant to let him know how proud he is of him.

"He was always a very calm, cool, collected guy," Girardi said. "Obviously, as a strength and conditioning coach you have to get the guys motivated, maybe after a long road trip, and you have guys ranging from 20 to 40 years old that don't like being told what to do. You have to handle the guys properly, know what to say, know when to push and workout, know when to dial it back. He was really good at reading people and doing great research to help the team. He handled the Rangers so well and for so long. I feel like Reggie is the perfect fit for what he's doing now. He didn't think he'd be doing what he's doing right now when he first started that job [at Holy Name], but he takes things in stride and no matter what it is he's going to do his absolute best, try his hardest and give his all. He's still doing whatever he needs to do to help the people in need."

Holy Name reported 11 coronavirus cases, with six patients being treated in the intensive care unit, in mid-March, according to the hospital. The numbers swelled to more than 1,200 positive tests, nearly 200 hospitalizations and 57 deaths one week into April.

As of Thursday, Holy Name had successfully discharged 1,100 coronavirus patients and had another 144 die, according to a hospital spokesperson.

The patients that leave the hospital still need care, but since they are not allowed to return to the facility to receive it because they must remain in isolation, Grant is part of a team that is working giving virtual care.

He's using what he learned with the Rangers, particularly with all the advanced testing and analytics, to help to figure out ways to monitor vitals and test performance on a daily or weekly basis so the patients can improve and return to function.

"It's a disease that attacks the respiratory system, which reduces function if you're attacked by it, reduces your ability to move, so right off the bat it's how can we help with respiratory, function and movement?" Grant said. "So all of the stuff where I started [in sports], which was basically leading a team focused on development, reconditioning, rehabilitation, returning to function in high level activity, it's right into that. It's exactly the same platform except it's shifted in its delivery and the way that we receive information and interact."

He's also working to manage the psyche of the patients, ensuring that they know the team at Holy Name on the other end of the remote device is connected to them and rooting for them.

Grant did that with players who were injured and needed a pick-me-up, especially when they weren't around their teammates often. He did it with players who were trying to manage the pressure that comes with being a highly paid, high-profile elite athlete.

"What happens in sports is when you have an athlete or the group as a whole, the team, things happen on a much more frequent basis because everyone is pushing for absolute perfection in performance," Grant said. "You're dealing with more injuries, more stress. Then when we get into the environment that's happening right now with COVID, that's what is happening now."

The silver lining, Grant said, is the need to move more into telehealth because of the global pandemic will enable him and healthcare communities everywhere to handle a larger patient load once the world returns to some semblance of normalcy.

What used to be limited by geography will now has no mileage limitation at all.

"We have an increased ability to help people coming out of this," Grant said. "We don't like why it's happening, but that's the lessons from sport. You've seen so many, the ones that can't really adapt, it's tough. The ones that survive learn to think on their feet."

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