THE YEAR OF COVID: Ellis Hospital put to test as pandemic hit region

A COVID-19 patient is removed from a Westchester Medical Center helicopter for transport to nearby Ellis Hospital on April 5, 2020.
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A COVID-19 patient is removed from a Westchester Medical Center helicopter for transport to nearby Ellis Hospital on April 5, 2020.

It could be said that the best and worst of the pandemic played out within hospitals.

Good and bad were everywhere, but seldom were they so concentrated in one space as in New York’s 200 hospitals, as thousands of New Yorkers died, and thousands of nurses and doctors worked overtime to keep more from dying.

Grim scenes of makeshift morgues in refrigerated trucks parked outside overwhelmed New York City hospitals are unforgettable.

The situation upstate never devolved to that level, but hospitals here nonetheless were put to the test as seldom before.

Ellis Hospital in Schenectady has admitted 733 COVID-positive patients in the past year, hitting a remarkable peak of 101 in a single day just seven weeks ago.

The situation is markedly better now — 25 inpatients on Friday — as the second surge of the pandemic tapers off.

“I think the past year has been a little bit of a whirlwind,” said nurse manager Cortney Jackson, who led a team of 40 on C-6 — the main COVID unit at Ellis.

She recalls the wait after COVID was confirmed in New York state on March 1, 2020. All preparations were in place, but when would the virus reach Schenectady County?

“I can remember the feeling of being a little uneasy, a little nervous,” Jackson said.

Then the virus arrived.

“Here it is, it’s go time,” she announced. “I remember my staff looking at me. It’s really time? Yep, it’s really time.

“From that time on, they’ve really just stepped up.”

The nurses worked through unknown risks to their own health, Jackson said: “Very early in COVID, nobody was really sure of anything.”

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They also had to switch from dealing in medical science to human emotion at times, as when a patient was dying and their family couldn’t break the quarantine to be with them. Nurses would hold iPads up to patients as they passed, so their families could be by their sides virtually.

Ellis was able to relieve the pressure on its downstate counterparts, as well, taking in 18 COVID patients from hospitals in the New York City area.

The situation in 2021 is much improved. Better techniques and medications have made a difference, as has the collective knowledge gained through treating so many patients. The availability of rapid and accurate testing has also made a difference. Ellis might have had a dozen or more PUIs — persons under investigation for possible COVID infection — per day back in April, but seldom has even one now. Infections can be confirmed that quickly.

“It’s great that we have all these advances in just a year,” Jackson said.

And if it wasn’t stated publicly enough before, Jackson will say it now: The meals delivered to the hospital last spring and all the other gestures of thanks and affection were greatly appreciated by those working behind the brick walls on Nott Street.

“As we were taking care of the community, a lot of the community stepped up to take care of us, too. The nurses really appreciated that.”

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Categories: News, Schenectady County

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