Capital Region hospitals say they are prepared for increase in COVID patients

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ALBANY — Capital Region hospitals said Tuesday they are being stretched by growing numbers of COVID patients but are prepared to admit even more if need be.

Several said they’ve been limiting non-urgent non-COVID cases at times, or transferring patients to other hospitals that aren’t as busy on a given day. 

They’re relying on each other through the cooperative framework they set up nearly two years ago, as the pandemic reached New York.

They’re also waiting to see if they’ll be on the list of hospitals that will be barred from providing non-urgent, non-essential procedures under a state order designed to free up treatment capacity in the event of a worsening surge.

Glens Falls Hospital and Saratoga Hospital said Tuesday they’re on the state’s list of about three dozen hospitals where non-urgent procedures will be halted on Friday. Ellis said it is not.

Albany Medical Center said it would comply with such an order but did not indicate whether it was on the list. St. Peter’s Hospital said it’s not sure yet how to interpret the benchmarks triggering the ban. St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam said it was notified verbally it met the threshold for halting elective procedures but hasn’t yet received official notice, or explanation what the specific impact will be on the facility.

In announcing the rule via executive order last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul defined limited capacity as operating at greater than 90% staffed bed capacity and/or regional factors to be determined by the state.

THE PROBLEM

In the past two weeks, the COVID hospital patient census has jumped 53% in the Capital Region and 43% statewide.

Dr. Steven Hanks, chief operating officer and chief clinical officer of St. Peter’s Health Partners, said Tuesday that all New York hospitals were required in early 2020 to submit a plan by which they could radically increase their certified bed capacity. They complied and those plans remain available, so the number of beds a facility can provide for inpatients is fluid and official hospital capacity numbers are obsolete.

“Physical space and physical beds are not the issues,” Hanks said. “Healthcare staffing is extremely difficult to come by now.”

Nearly two years into the pandemic, a significant number of healthcare personnel have burned out and quit. More recently, some have quit or been fired because of vaccine mandates.

Without nurses and other support personnel to care for patients, those beds can’t be filled.

SPHP has roughly 1,200 current job openings. The other five hospitals cited in this story advertise a combined total of roughly 3,000 openings on their websites.

The squeeze is worst with intensive care unit beds, Hanks said. Some patients who need ICU treatment have had to be transferred to other hospitals, sometimes in regions of the state where COVID is not hitting as hard as it currently is in upstate New York.

“If things get worse and we’re not able to find staff, the approach will be to curtail services that are non-emergent,” Hanks said.

Here’s the situation at Capital Region hospitals, as told by the hospitals themselves and statistics for Sunday gathered in a state database. (Monday statistics were not posted as of mid-evening Tuesday.)

ALBANY MED

Albany Medical Center had 643 staffed acute care beds, 627 of which were occupied. It had 92 staffed ICU beds, all of them occupied. COVID patient census was 50.

Spokeswoman Sue Ford Rajchel said the region’s largest hospital is pooling resources with the other facilities to provide care to all patients, whether infected with COVID or not.

“Should the state declare a limitation on non-urgent surgeries, we will comply, as we would with any state order,” she said. “However, all of us encourage anyone in need not to delay necessary care. We have worried about a quieter pandemic — that of undiagnosed and untreated illnesses and injuries. The plans we have in place are designed to maintain as many services as we can safely provide.”

ELLIS

Ellis Hospital on Sunday had 211 staffed acute care beds, 185 of them occupied. It had 28 staffed ICU beds, all of them occupied. COVID patient census was 38.

Ellis Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Liebers addressed the issue in a video update Tuesday.

COVID has accounted for up to a quarter of the total patient census recently, he said, and “I think it will get worse, unfortunately.”

Staffing is a concern at all levels, he said, but Ellis is “able to transfer patients to where the best care can be delivered. … If a hospital is full we have the option to transfer patients within our region and in some cases even outside our region.”

COVID patient volume has doubled at Ellis in two weeks, spokesman Philip Schwarz said, and the hospital has delayed non-urgent procedures as needed. If it needs to increase the number of staffed beds, it can further limit the services it provides to non-COVID patients.

GLENS FALLS

Glens Falls Hospital on Sunday had 157 staffed acute care beds, all of them occupied. It had 16 staffed ICU beds, all of them occupied. COVID patient census was 50.

Glens Falls Hospital is licensed for 391 beds. Spokesman Ray Agnew said the hospital has plenty of available bed space but space is not the limiting factor. Staff is.

“We have worked hard to schedule only elective procedures that do not require an overnight stay, so that does mean that on occasion a patient has been asked to reschedule a procedure if it meant they would need to be admitted,” he said. “This will likely happen much more regularly, and perhaps for many more types of cases, based on the governor’s order.”

Glens Falls Hospital has a few strategies for operating past its functional capacity, Agnew said: “We have an absolutely heroic staff that have volunteered to take extra shifts, we have added more [nursing agency] staff, and we have partnered with other regional hospitals who have been able to take a few patients, thereby opening beds here.”

SARATOGA HOSPITAL

Saratoga on Sunday had 182 staffed acute care beds and 180 of them were occupied. It had 19 staffed ICU beds, 16 of them occupied. COVID patient census was 31.

Spokesman Peter Hopper said Saratoga Hospital’s flex/surge plan has evolved over the course of 20 months as the facility continues to use it daily to allocate beds, space and resources to meet demand.

He said Saratoga Hospital is on the state’s list of hospitals where elective procedures will be barred, but the hospital has already been postponing those as needed. A dedicated staff holding up under high stress and high demand makes continued operation possible, he added.

“We continue to perform critical care procedures and surgeries,” Potter said. “We continue to perform essential elective surgeries — those procedures intended to alleviate significant symptoms and malignancies, to respond to an immediate threat to a patient’s health and/or quality of life. Any other elective procedure is assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine its impact on patient care resources.”

When the state issues the directive the hospital will evaluate how to proceed, Potter added.

ST. MARY’S

St. Mary’s Healthcare on Sunday had 57 staffed acute care beds, all of them were occupied. It had eight staffed ICU beds, five of them occupied. COVID patient census was 17.

St. Mary’s Healthcare spokesman Rick Hyde said the COVID-positive patient census “has slowly increased over the last few weeks, and we are preparing for an anticipated increase after the holiday.”

He said the hospital’s workforce is too small, which has resulted in longer waiting times for patients as the remaining personnel work to keep up with demand.

“This is a staffing crisis that healthcare has not seen before. St. Mary’s associates continue to rise and exceed every challenge this pandemic has presented them with to ensure our patients and community are cared for as safely and effectively as possible,” Hyde said.

St. Mary’s increased its number of staffed beds during the height of the pandemic and can do so again now, he added.

ST. PETER’S

St. Peter’s Hospital on Sunday had 401 staffed acute care beds, 361 of them occupied. It had 29 staffed ICU beds, 28 of them occupied. COVID patient census was 59.

St. Peter’s Hospital would have trouble right now increasing its staffed bed capacity beyond 401, Dr. Hanks said.

A silver lining in the pandemic has been the level of cooperation quickly achieved among hospitals in the Capital Region and eastern Mohawk Valley region, he added. The ability to move patients and share resources has been invaluable at times.

Looking forward, Hanks is concerned about a post-holiday jump in new infections and a possible twindemic — large numbers of COVID and flu infections at the same time.

The 2020-21 flu season was stunningly quiet — just seven patients with Influenza A were admitted to St. Peter’s in the whole season, compared with seven in one afternoon at the peak of a normal flu season.

That was possibly due to people masking up and keeping distant from one another, Hanks said, and both practices have diminished in the interceding months.

He made a pitch for COVID and flu vaccination.

“If you’ve not been vaccinated, it’s not too late,” Hanks said.

And he made a pitch for greater precautions even amid COVID fatigue: “Just because you’re vaccinated doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mask.”

Categories: News

1 Comments
CAROLYN NARDIELLO December 1, 2021
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The Tingler was a 1959 movie, the remake is called COVID. The 1959 film tells the story of a scientist who discovers a parasite in human beings, called a ‘tingler’, which feeds on fear. KIds in the audience would scream on cue. The hysteria of the audience made the movie a success.

COVID hysteria feeds the disease. COVID wants to morph, die so to speak but the ‘audience’ will not let it.

Fear, anxiety, and stress reduce the effectiveness of the immune system.

Edmond Day