Upstate residents concerned about losing their ventilators to downstate hospitals, for fear that the life-saving equipment might be needed here when the coronavirus crisis expands statewide, can rest a little easier.
In the wake of bipartisan upstate backlash to a planned executive order calling for the National Guard to take up to 20% of ventilators and other equipment from upstate hospitals and nursing homes to treat Covid-19 patients downstate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has modified the order to place the initiative in the hands of the state Health Department.
This is a welcome and necessary modification that should alleviate fears that some upstate hospitals would be left unprepared to deal with the crisis as it spreads upstate.
Some upstate leaders, including Democratic Congressman Antonio Delgado and Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, were among a bipartisan collection of state legislators and county executives over the weekend who expressed grave concern about the plan, worried that having the National Guard take the equipment could affect the ability of upstate health facilities to provide care should they see a sudden influx of patients.
We objected to Cuomo’s deployment of the National Guard as a tool to strong-arm facilities into giving up the equipment, and we urged the governor to come up with a plan that was more mindful of upstate concerns.
Under the executive order issued Tuesday, hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities would report any inventoried personal protective equipment (PPEs), ventilators and BiPAP machines to the Department of Health.
Health officials then “may shift any such items not currently needed, or needed in the short-term future by a health care facility” to places where they are needed by coronavirus patients.
The state Health Department serves as both a resource and a regulatory body for health care facilities in the state, including ensuring quality of patient care and investigating patient complaints.
As such, it’s in a much better position, certainly than the National Guard, to evaluate the needs of downstate vs. upstate health facilities and determine what can be shared.
While the governor’s order still gives the state the authority to take equipment from one part of the state to the other, having the Health Department in charge at least ensures that the decisions will be in conjunction with medical professionals and will take into account the needs of all facilities, regardless of location, based on the impact on patient care.
Cooperation and communication among health facilities is essential to ensuring that all New Yorkers are served during this crisis.
This modest but important modification of the governor’s original plan should provide some solace to upstate residents — in that it puts health professionals, not soldiers, in the role of allocating these vital resources.