ALBANY — Some Capital Region hospitals may need to halt elective procedures, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday.
She declared a state of emergency last week allowing the state Department of Health to halt elective procedures in hospitals if they get too close to their operating capacities.
On Monday, she said the moratorium would go into effect Friday in about 32 to 36 hospitals.
She didn’t specify which hospitals would be placed on restrictions, but said the regions with hospital bed capacity at or below 10% are the Finger Lakes, Central New York and Capital Region.
Ellis Hospital in Schenectady has seen its COVID-positive patient census double in two weeks, part of a sharp increase seen in other Capital Region hospitals in November. Ellis said Monday it had 42 inpatients with COVID, up from 21 on Nov. 15.
The State Department of Health’s dashboard, meanwhile, indicates the patient census across the Capital Region jumped from 187 to 287 in the same period.
Both totals are well below the number of COVID patients these hospitals cared for in early 2021, but the number of staff available to care for them also is smaller, placing stress on the system.
Glens Falls Hospital last week said it had surpassed 50 COVID patients, its most ever, and was beyond capacity. Again, staff was a key limiting factor.
“I’ve never seen a staffing crisis like we have right now,” Dr. James Reed, CEO of St. Peter’s Health Partners, said during a conference call with reporters on an unrelated topic Monday.
SPHP and Ellis are currently more than 10% below their desired workforce level, with nearly 1,200 unfilled positions at SPHP and nearly 450 at Ellis.
It’s a worrisome situation amid a COVID surge, but it’s not limited to one region or a few hospitals. Healthcare workers statewide and nationwide have been quitting their jobs in significant number, many because of burnout amid the pandemic, now ending its 21st month in New York.
Others have quit or been fired for refusing the COVID vaccine mandate.
Ellis CEO Paul Milton said the Capital Region’s hospitals are continuing the collaboration and strategizing they’ve been doing since before the pandemic reached New York, in hopes of balancing the patient load if it reaches a crisis.
Hochul told reporters Monday that the squeeze on hospitals is an upstate problem at the moment: Hospitals here have lost 10% of their bed capacity and seen a 150% increase in COVID admissions.
Per capita hospitalization in regions of upstate New York is currently running as much as six times as high as in New York City, state data show.
Meanwhile, Hochul said, some nursing homes are so short-staffed they can’t take in new residents, so patients who need nursing home care must remain hospitalized even though they are well enough to be discharged.
Sending medically trained members of the National Guard to hospitals and nursing homes is one option being prepared, Hochul said, and the state in January will begin training more Guardsmen as emergency medical technicians.
Another possibility in late 2021would be to reverse the strategy of early 2020, when downstate hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID patients and upstate medical personnel went downstate to help.
The governor said some hospitals downstate have agreed to send personnel to hot spots upstate.
Hochul said holiday gatherings last week gave the virus a chance to spread to more people. She predicted a boost in positive COVID tests about five days after the holiday and a jump in hospitalizations about 10 days after.
“We’d be naive to think there won’t be,” she said.
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