Providers equipped to tackle rising COVID-19 cases

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Local officials say health care resources are adequate to keep pace with the still-rising spread of COVID-19 for the next two weeks. After that, success will increasingly depend on how well social distancing works to keep the advance of the virus in check, and on the region’s ability to boost staff and acquire additional resources.

The Rochester region is now entering the second phase of what could be a four-phase surge-capacity plan, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello revealed at a Friday morning briefing by county and health system officials. In the third phase, area hospital bed capacity would be more than doubled to add 2,000 beds, increasing the county’s current 1,964-bed count to nearly 4,000.

If a surge in new cases warrants moving into the plan’s fourth phase, new beds would be added at a yet-to-be-created field hospital. Four possible locations for such a facility are now under consideration, but officials hope that measure will not be needed, Bello said.

“We believe we (now) have the staff and the equipment and the supplies to manage,” said Kathleen Parrinello, chief operating officer of Strong Memorial Hospital. “Once we get into phase III, that’s where it’s going to be much more challenging to get additional equipment such as beds, infusion pumps, monitors, because we will be using space that is not traditionally used for health care.”

Whether New York will be able to secure an adequate number of ventilators has become an increasingly testy flash point between Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who fears the state could run short by tens of thousands, and President Donald Trump, who dismisses Cuomo’s estimates as overdrawn and has so far been unwilling to commit to providing more to New York and has wavered on sealing partnerships he previously touted with manufacturers to produce ventilators.

UR Medicine and Rochester Regional Health currently have 640 ventilators between them, a number that health system officials say could be augmented by converting other equipment. 

“We are really trying to get ahead of this,” Parrinello said. Strong Memorial believes that 20 additional ventilators it now has on order “are being shipped and will arrive.” The UR hospital has put in a request for 30 more and hopes to see them as well, she added.   

So far, UR Medicine and RRH have cleared space in their hospitals by postponing non-essential treatments to free up 647 existing beds across the systems’ hospitals.

The UR system includes Strong Memorial and Highland hospitals in Rochester, F.F. Thompson in Canandaigua, Noyes Hospital in Livingston County, St. James Hospital in Steuben County and Jones Memorial in Allegany County.

RRH includes Rochester General and Unity Hospital in Greece, Newark-Wayne Community Hospital in Wayne County, Clifton Springs Hospital and Clinic in Ontario County, and United Memorial Medical Center in Genesee County.

In phase II, the health systems plan to convert some ambulatory and overflow clinic space to inpatient care to add up to 761 beds. If the plan needs to advance to phase III, non-COVID-19 patients currently in single-occupancy rooms would be doubled up and hospital space not now used for patient care would be adapted to patient care to add another 672 beds. Staff and equipment would also have to be added. If phase IV is needed, recovering, non-critical COVID-19 patients would be moved to the field hospital, freeing hospital space for more urgent care.

In the meantime, officials say, the situation is in hand. 

“All UR Medicine hospitals are set up to provide safe, inpatient care for COVID-19 patients who aren’t critically ill,” assured Michael Apostolakis M.D., chief medical officer of UR Medicine. Critically ill COVID-19 cases are under care at Strong Memorial. Less critically ill patients are being transferred from Strong to Highland and F.F. Thompson.  

RRH is also converting and rearranging space at its hospitals to make room for COVID-19 care, said Robert Mayo M.D., the system’s chief medical officer. To minimize the chances of face-to-face infection from the highly contagious COVID-19 virus, more than 800 RRH providers are now using telehealth to consult with patients, he added. The system has also set up tents at Rochester General, Unity and Clifton Springs hospitals and United Memorial Medical Center, where hundreds of patients’ likelihood of COVID-19 infection is being be evaluated daily.

Health system and elected officials repeatedly stressed that how diligently residents adhere to social distancing guidelines will matter as much or more than the health systems’ efforts in carrying through the surge plans.

Cautioned Bello: “We continue to impress upon everyone the dire need to stay home and practice social distancing to avoid a local surge in patients.”

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer. All Rochester Beacon coronavirus articles are collected here.

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