WNY hospitals prepare now for anticipated hospitalization surge

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB-TV) – Area hospitals are working now to be ready for more coronavirus patients.

There’s renewed bed capacity concern, as the infection rate, hospitalizations, and deaths are all on the rise. On Friday, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said county hospitals were at 78 percent capacity. Most of those hospitalizations are not people with coronavirus, but the number of people being admitted with coronavirus is growing.

All of hospitals systems are making sure they have at least 50 percent more beds, just like they did in the spring.

One aspect of preparing for the surge now is “load sharing,” meaning all hospitals are taking on some coronavirus patients – instead of having covid-only hospitals- since community spread is now all over the region.

“We are preparing for the worst,” said ECMC President and CEO Tom Quatroche.

He finds hope in that the spring projections for hospitalizations never reached as bad as were predicted, but he’s still making sure ECMC is ready.

What Quatroche believes could be new this time around is hospitals working together more closely than they already do.

“I think this is going to take a new level of cooperation, obviously not just with our partners around trauma, but I think with all of the hospital systems in the area to make sure none of becomes overwhelmed,” he said.

Then there’s sharing the load, which means having all hospitals accommodate coronavirus patients since the virus is now wide spread all over the region. Catholic Health’s St. Joseph campus will not become a coronavirus-only hospital again. It did, however, close its emergency room to create flexible space as needed.

“At each of our campuses, we’re taking units that are offline, and we’re adding bed capacity there for COVID patients,” said Catholic Health President and CEO Mark Sullivan.

Having enough staff is equally important as having enough beds, Sullivan. He explained Catholic Health has a 150 person “float pool” and taps into agencies that can send in healthcare workers from other areas as needed.

“Remember, they’ve been working since February in this environment, so we owe them to provide as many resources by the bed as we can,” Sullivan said.

Kaleida Health does this too, along with an emphasis on working to keep healthcare workers healthy so they don’t have to call-off. Spokesperson and Chief of staff Michael P. Hughes says the infection rate among Kaleida Health staff is about half of what it is in the surrounding community.

“COVID fatigue is real, and we’re well aware of that, so we’re trying to provide as many resources to our staff as possible,” Hughes said.

The lengths of coronavirus hospital stays are now shorter than when the virus was brand new, thanks to improvement in care, but the admit percentage of patients is higher, meaning more patients are being admitted, and Sullivan said that’s the one factor hospitals cannot control.

“If everyone tells you they were home for Thanksgiving, I would tell you maybe half of them are telling the truth,” he said. “Because now we’re seeing, eight days later, an increase in those getting admitted to the hospital for COVID.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Although hospitalizations are higher now than they were in the spring, Hughes says the number of people hospitalized and in the ICU or with airway assist are also much lower than they were in the spring.

And there’s good news to be found there.

“Close to 40 percent of those patients were in the ICU, so back then they were either much sicker, or the treatment wasn’t as good as today,” Hughes said, referring to April, May, and June. “Clearly, the treatment is better. The nurses and physicians know how to deal with this.”

That doesn’t mean the coronavirus won’t make you very sick. All of the hospital leaders remind the public that COVID-19 knows no age or level of health and fitness. Sullivan says the best gift you can give healthcare workers this holiday season is to wear a mask, stay home, and practice being safe.

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