St. Mary’s Healthcare, Saratoga Hospital and Albany Medical Center will have to limit the number of non-urgent, non-essential procedures they perform due to bed capacity levels at the facilities following increased COVID-19 transmission levels across the state.
The Capital Region facilities are just three of the 32 hospitals statewide implementing the new measures as COVID transmission rates remain high and hospital admission rates have increased.
“New York is now experiencing COVID-19 transmission at rates the state has not seen since April 2021, and the rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions has been increasing over the past month to over 300 new admissions a day,” said Stephanie Shulman, the director of the Division of Hospitals and Diagnostics & Treatment Centers in a Dec. 3 letter to hospital chief executive officers.
On Tuesday, Saratoga County had a seven-day positive case average of 6.5%. The averages for other counties, according to state health department data, included: Schenectady County — 6.8%, Montgomery County — 10.9%, Fulton County — 11.6%, and Albany County — 6.5%.
Hospitals impacted by the new measures said they have been preparing for the new state directive and are reviewing patient cases to determine whether to proceed with surgery or not.
“The physician and/or physician office will be communicating directly with the patient to determine the best care model,” said Richard Hyde, a spokesperson for St. Mary’s Hospital. “As outlined in the guidance released by the NYSDOH, many procedures we are currently performing are considered essential.”
According to the state health department, essential care and procedures will still be available to certain patients, including those with the following diagnoses:
- Cancer, including diagnostic procedures to detect suspected cancer
- Intractable Pain
- Highly symptomatic patients
- Cardiac with symptoms
- Limb threatening vascular procedures
- Dialysis Vascular Access
- Patients that are at a clinically high risk of harm if their procedures are not completed
Patients who will be impacted by the new regulations will receive a call from their doctor, Hyde said.
There are currently 18 COVID patients at the hospital, Hyde said.
“For reference at the height of the pandemic we were reporting COVID-19 inpatient numbers in the mid to upper 30s,” he said.
Of the COVID patients in the hospital, Hyde said, the “vast majority” are unvaccinated.
St. Mary’s on Nov. 28 had 57 staffed acute care beds, all of them were occupied; of its eight staffed ICU beds, five of them occupied. COVID patient census was 17 on Nov. 28.
Saratoga Hospital isn’t expecting a lot of procedures to be postponed either, but is currently reviewing patient cases, said Peter Hopper, director of marketing and communications for Saratoga Hospital.
“While the executive order has good intentions, in many respects, we are already doing what the order is requiring,” Hopper said. “Every day, we have been managing the challenges of the recent spike in COVID hospitalizations, along with a higher demand for critical care needs at Saratoga Hospital. Demand fluctuates every day, throughout the day. That’s the reality of managing a community hospital: assessing staff and resources and allocating those resources to meet the unique needs of our community.”
He did not indicate how many beds the hospital has or how many are currently occupied by COVID patients. Numbers from Nov. 28 indicated Saratoga had: 182 staffed acute care beds and 180 of them were occupied; 19 staffed ICU beds, 16 of them occupied; and COVID patient census was 31.
Albany Medical Center, which is the only Level 1 trauma center and tertiary care center in the region, provides many of the procedures the state is still allowing under the new regulations the hospital has to follow.
However, the hospital had adjusted the caseload for cosmetic procedures and non-urgent hernia repairs in October to ensure the hospital had enough capacity, said Sue Ford Rajchel, the director of communications for Albany Med.
“Some procedures will be considered at the surgeon’s discretion as to what is in the patient’s best interest,” Rajchel said. “Patients are encouraged to speak with their surgeon and not to assume that their procedure will be postponed.”
The hospital currently has 54 COVID patients, of which 38 are unvaccinated.
“It is important to note that most vaccinated patients who are admitted also have underlying health conditions,” Rajchel said.
It was reported Nov. 30 that Albany Medical Center had 643 staffed acute care beds, 627 of which were occupied, along with 92 staffed ICU beds, all of them occupied.
Ellis Hospital, which is in Schenectady County where five people died of COVID on Tuesday, is still able to perform elective procedures, but due to increased COVID hospitalizations over the last three weeks has decided to delay some non-essential procedures to free up staff.
As of this Tuesday morning, there were 36 COVID patients at Ellis, down from 38 Monday and 39 a week ago, according to data provided by Schwartz. Two weeks ago there were 31 people hospitalized for COVID, and three weeks ago it was 23 people.
“We are not at or beyond capacity, and closely monitor our staffing levels shift-by-shift,” Schwartz said. “That said, Ellis is not immune to the staffing crisis that has affected hospitals nationwide. Long before this pandemic, capacity has always been fluid, determined by patient volume on a given day and available staff.”
Starting next week data from Wednesday will be reviewed by the state Department of Health and impacted facilities will be notified on the following Friday, said Erin Silk, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health.
Any procedure limitations will be put into effect the following Thursday.
As new COVID cases appear in the region, some county officials are urging people to wear masks. On Tuesday, Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman and Albany County Executive Dan McCoy issued a public health advisory concerning masks.
Fluman said at the moment he isn’t looking to mandate masks in Schenectady County since enforcement would be an issue.
“If we do it, we have to do it together,” he said. The five latest residents to die were of COVID were a man in his 80s, a man and woman in their 70s, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 50s.
Fluman said he’s continuing to have discussions with leaders in contiguous counties about how to proceed forward as they continue to review COVID data.