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Ellis, St. Mary's hospitals suspend almost all COVID-19 testing

Ellis, St. Mary's hospitals suspend almost all COVID-19 testing

Other hospitals across region also running short on test kits
Ellis, St. Mary's hospitals suspend almost all COVID-19 testing
A masked parking valet blocks the driveway as people walk to the COVID-19 test tent at Albany Med on Wednesday.
Photographer: John Cropley

SCHENECTADY — Ellis Hospital has suspended most testing for COVID-19 due to a shortage of test kits.

The only full-service hospital in Schenectady County has already tested about 500 people, many in a drive-through setting near its emergency room entrance. It is now running out of supplies as the disease spreads rapidly through the Capital Region.

The hospital said it is working with local and state officials to procure more test kits, but until it can, it is reserving the remaining supply for the sickest patients admitted to the hospital.

Ellis suggested that people who suspect or fear that they are infected with COVID-19 stay home in quarantine. Getting tested does not affect the length of the quarantine, nor reduce the critical need for keeping distance from other people.

Other hospitals across the region are in the same boat as Ellis.

St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam also has discontinued testing for all but the sickest patients admitted to the hospital, again because of short supplies of testing gear.

Glens Falls Hospital, Glens Falls Hospital and the hospitals operated by St. Peter’s Health Care have not suspended testing but will if supplies run low.

Albany Medical Center, which runs the largest hospital in the region and which sits in the county with the highest patient count in upstate New York, said it is operating with only a two- to three-day supply of test kits on hand and will have to scale back to testing only its own patients (and staff) if its supply line slows or halts.

In the meantime, it has been testing large numbers of patients in the community, even those without authorization from physicians, which most other test sites are still requiring. Incoming CEO Dr. Dennis McKenna said Wednesday that Albany Med had administered 1,402 tests in the preceding six days.

Albany Med also went live this week with its own COVID-19 testing lab, gaining federal approval for a facility prepared by its Virology Department. So it can now diagnose infections in house. But here again, though, the hospital is limited by the supply chain: It currently has only enough of the active ingredient used in the process to perform 200 tests.

McKenna and two other Albany Med executives spoke at a news conference Wednesday to reassure the community that the facility is prepared and ready to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

“The reason why Albany Medical Center is able to do this is because we have done this before, and we have prepared for this,” McKenna said, citing the hospital’s response to the SARS outbreak and the H1N1 pandemic in the 2000s.

The numbers are different with COVID-19 but what hospital personnel are doing is the same.

“This is why people go into medicine: They go into medicine because they want to take care of anyone with anything at any time,” McKenna added. “We are prepared to meet that mission.”

As of Wednesday, Albany Med is caring for six inpatients with confirmed COVID-19 infections, one of them in the intensive care unit.

Dr. Fred Venditti, executive vice president for system care delivery, gave a rundown on the hospital’s preparations:

  • There are 80 rooms equipped with the negative pressure ventilation systems needed for contagious patients, all tested and ready to go.
  • Additional spaces are available for quick conversion as patient rooms if needed.
  • The hospital has 75 of the ventilators needed for patients with severe respiratory problems, will get more if it can, and has enough trained personnel on hand to use all of them.
  • Albany Med has adequate supplies masks, gowns and other equipment on hand.
  • Leaders at Albany Med and 10 other hospitals across the region hold a conference call for about an hour each morning to bring each other up to speed on what is happening in other hospitals, in great detail.
  • Around noon, managers at Albany Medical Center meet to discuss whether there is adequate space, personnel and blood supply to do all elective surgical procedures scheduled the next day, or whether some need to be postponed to free up space or personnel to deal with COVID-19. Some patients have canceled their own procedures to avoid being in the hospital at this time.
  • Ellis Medicine said patients with respiratory symptoms who can’t get tested at Ellis should call their doctor or the health care provider who ordered the test and seek further instructions, but advised them not to show up unannounced at a medical facility without calling ahead.

If the situation reaches the level of an emergency, call 911, Ellis advised.

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