ALBANY — Capital Region hospitals took in two dozen COVID-19 patients from New York City Thursday night and Friday morning as downstate hospitals struggle with overcrowding and their staffs fight exhaustion.
The state recorded more than 10,000 new confirmed cases in 24 hours, bringing the total to 102,863 by late Friday morning. Also Friday morning, 14,810 COVID patients were hospitalized, an increase of 3,731, and the death toll increased 562 to 2,935, the largest single-day increase yet.
The pandemic has hit downstate hardest thus far, with 57,159 cases in New York City and 38,818 in its four closest suburban counties, which combine for 93 percent of all patients statewide.
On Tuesday, Albany Med took in 14 COVID patients from a two-hospital system in Queens that asked it for help. One has since died.
On Thursday, the same Queens hospitals asked Albany Med to take more patients. Albany Med and St. Peter’s Health Partners each took six transfers, Ellis Hospital and St. Mary’s Health Care each took four, and Saratoga Hospital took three.
The transfers to Ellis arrived around midnight aboard a Fire Department of New York vehicle — a Medical Evacuation Transportation Unit resembling a large bus. This brought Ellis to 29 confirmed cases among the patient roster and 19 suspected but not confirmed cases. Five COVID patients have died at Ellis.
Ellis had planned and prepared to take in out-of-area COVID patients as the pandemic worsened and didn’t hesitate to do so when it was asked.
“We are welcoming the opportunity to help our brothers and sisters in New York to deal with this pandemic,” said Dr. David Liebers, chief medical officer of Ellis Medicine. “We have an obligation to help out.”
He spoke Friday at a news conference at Albany Med, which has formed a partnership with Ellis, Columbia Memorial Hospital, St. Mary’s, Glens Falls Hospital and the four hospitals of St. Peter’s Health Partners to form a regional team approach to fighting the virus.
The state Department of Health will begin vectoring downstate patients upstate if all downstate hospitals become overwhelmed. The transfers to the Capital Region this week were arranged by the hospitals themselves, not the state.
REASSURING THE PUBLIC
As they discussed the transferred patients, the assembled hospital leaders made two other points Friday: There is still plenty of hospital space for Capital Region residents who get sick with COVID-19, and no one should be afraid to seek hospital treatment for an urgent problem that’s not COVID-19-related.
“Right now I can say with confidence that nobody in this region’s at a point where we’re going to exhaust our beds in the near future,” said Dr. Dennis McKenna, CEO of Albany Med.
Albany Med itself monitors four data streams to project need and capacity as the pandemic progresses, said Dr. Fred Venditti, the hospital’s chief medical officer. On Friday morning it was more than 300 patients shy of its designed 766-patient capacity, he said, and has room for significantly more than 766 on its crisis footing.
Some in the upstate community have suggested that COVID-19 patients should be treated downstate, so as to preserve the more-limited upstate hospital space for upstate residents.
At Friday’s news conference, and in each announcement of transfers earlier in the week, the Capital Region hospitals have pointed out how accepting transfers fits their mission as well as the higher calling of medicine.
“We did not take these patients from New York City because they’re from New York City,” McKenna said. “We did not take them because they’re from New York state. We took them because they’re people who needed help. And we would do that every day and we would do it twice on Sunday.”
“I want to reflect on our mission statement,” said Dr. William Mayer, chief medical officer of St. Mary’s. “We’re a faith-based organization so it’s a little more spiritual, but it has to do with continuing the healing ministry of Jesus, especially to those who are most vulnerable and poor. Certainly those folks we saw last night are vulnerable.”
“In response to dire conditions downstate, Saratoga Hospital has done something it’s never done before: accept outside patients for transfer,” said Dr. Richard Falivena, chief medical officer. “But the medical staff realizes that in times like this we really need to go beyond our usual care of patients.”
McKenna noted that Albany Med took in over 16,000 transfer patients last year. In a crisis like this, he added, each transfer may save two lives — the person being moved north to a less-crowded hospital and the patient left behind in a waiting room, who now has a better chance of receiving adequate care.
McKenna acknowledged the sentiments some upstaters harbor privately, or voice publicly, but said Friday’s news conference was not intended to justify or defend.
He said: “I think we’re all aware that there are some comments that some individuals may have made on social media that suggest that by taking these individuals in, we’re introducing the virus to this region … It was not intended to be any defensiveness to it, it was really more of an affirmation that what we are doing is something we’re all very proud of.”
Across the Capital Region, statistics can be inconsistent from one county to the next due to variations in what is disclosed in each county, the methods used to collect and define the data, and the freshness of the data. Here’s what was available Friday afternoon:
- Albany County has had 267 confirmed cases out of 3,915 tests administered to date; 30 people were hospitalized, fifteen in intensive care; 535 are in quarantine; four have died.
- Fulton County has had 6 confirmed cases out of 149 tests.
- Montgomery County has had 12 confirmed cases out of 165 tests; 3 are hospitalized; one has died.
- Rensselaer County has had 71 confirmed cases out of 1,235 tests; 20 are hospitalized; over 360 are quarantined; one person has died.
- Saratoga County has had 141 confirmed cases out of 1,842 tests; 18 were hospitalized as of Wednesday and one had died.
- Schenectady County has had 110 confirmed cases out of 1,236 tests; 21 are hospitalized; 335 are quarantined; 5 have died.
- Schoharie County has had 12 confirmed cases out of 106 tests; 36 are in quarantine.