ALBANY — Capital Region hospitals have begun to receive clearance to resume elective surgery, which has been all but banned for most of the last two months to conserve resources for the fight against COVID-19.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week allowed partial resumption of these procedures, but only in certain counties and under certain conditions. Most Capital Region counties were on the exclusion list, but most hospitals here applied for waivers to the ban.
Albany Medical Center and Glens Falls Hospital announced Thursday they’d received their waiver from the state Department of Health. Ellis, St. Peter’s and Samaritan hospitals said later Thursday they were still waiting for a decision.
The forced hiatus has hit upstate hospitals hard, eliminating a key revenue stream just as they were spending to respond to the pandemic. Many have resorted to the ironic step of staff layoffs and furloughs amid the most disruptive health crisis in living memory.
Unlike downstate hospitals overwhelmed by COVID patients, upstate hospitals have been sitting partially idle.
Albany Med officials have been using the term “medically necessary” surgery as Cuomo has been saying “elective surgery.”
To split semantic hairs, these are medically necessary surgeries that doctors and/or patients can elect to delay for a period of time — joint repairs, excision of lumps from breasts, gallbladder surgery, things that need to be done but won’t be fatal if they aren’t done immediately.
Dr. Dennis McKenna, CEO of Albany Med, said there’s a backlog of slightly more than 6,000 patients waiting for these procedures there.
“That gives you some context as to how many people have been waiting to access care just on this campus,” he said in his daily video broadcast Thursday.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Fred Venditti said Albany Med will start with short outpatient procedures unlikely to result in blood loss or hospitalizations.
These will be done in the South Clinical Campus, a mile away from the main hospital, and patients will have to test negative before they can enter the building.
“We are very confident we are going to be able to this safely for our patients,” he said.
McKenna noted that Albany Med’s COVID-19 patient roster was 48 on Thursday, the first time since April 3 that it was below 50.
The hospital retains capacity to accommodate a surge of COVID-19 patients, should one materialize. This was a main concern of Cuomo.
Glens Falls Hospital CEO Dianne Shugrue said in a written statement that the facility will resume surgery immediately and ramp up to more complex procedures as soon as possible, bringing back on staff the 350-plus employees it furloughed as it can.
Glens Falls too is implementing extensive safety measures: Patients must test negative for COVID before surgery and must quarantine before and after. For patients who develop post-surgery complications, a wing where COVID patients have never been treated has been sterilized and is set aside.
Also Thursday, residential and commercial tenants statewide got an additional two months’ leeway, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended his ban on evictions for nonpayment from June 20 to Aug. 20.
The moratorium was imposed early in the COVID 19 crisis, starting March 20 and extending three months. Six weeks later, with statewide unemployment likely exceeding 20 percent and no quick restart likely on the economy he largely immobilized, Cuomo extended the moratorium to five months and indicated he might extend it further if the situation doesn’t improve by mid-summer.
The governor also allowed tenants facing COVID-related hardships to use their security deposits to pay their rent and banned late fees on unpaid rent.
This will potentially put some landlords in a very tight spot — five months of lost income just as local governments and school districts consider significant property tax increases amid lost sales tax and other revenue.
During his daily briefing Thursday at New York Medical College in Valhalla, Cuomo was asked how landlords will pay their mortgage, insurance and maintenance costs?
“I get it. I get it. That’s a tradeoff. None of these decisions are easy,” the governor said. “We’re working on relief from the banks for the landlords also,” he said, noting that he also has put a moratorium on foreclosures.
The governor has framed the eviction moratorium as a matter of practicality — it would be foolish to throw people into homelessness amid a public health crisis — but also as a matter of compassion.
“On a human level, I don’t want to see people and their children being evicted at this time through no fault of their own,” Cuomo said.
DEATH TOLL JUMPS
With 3,491 new positive tests and 231 deaths in the preceding 24 hours, New York stood at 327,469 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 20,828 fatalities as of Thursday morning. (The death toll jumped nearly by nearly 1,000 due to addition of nursing home deaths previously not included.)
In the Capital Region, three new deaths were reported, all in Albany County, which under the revised accounting now stands at 100 total fatalities, 68 of them county residents.