The New York State Department of Health is implementing emergency measures to help hospitals cope with the surge in Covid cases and hospitalizations as the outbreak grows more severe across the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.
Cuomo said if some parts of the state hit a “real hospitalization crisis,” the state could implement a regional New York Pause, which “is basically a stop.” He added that the No. 1 priority is ensuring the state has enough hospital capacity to treat all patients.
“We are now worried about overwhelming the hospital system,” Cuomo said at a news briefing. “If those numbers continue to increase, which we expect they will, you will see serious stress on the hospital system.”
Implementing emergency measures means a few things. First, hospitals need to identify retired nurses and doctors, Cuomo said, adding that “we’re already experiencing staff shortages.”
The state is also forgoing elective surgeries in Erie County, which Cuomo said has been hit particularly hard. He added, however, that elective procedures could be halted in other parts of the state, too, if hospitals begin to become overwhelmed.
“It’s a new phase in the war against Covid,” Cuomo said. “It’s a war in terms of preparation and mobilization.”
Cuomo also said the state is mandating “load balancing” of patients within hospital systems so that one hospital in a certain area doesn’t become overwhelmed while others have more capacity. Cuomo said failing to do so will be considered malpractice by the hospital systems.
Cuomo said the failure to implement load balancing in the spring is what caused Elmhurst hospital to become overwhelmed early in the pandemic. The conditions at the Queens hospital, where 13 Covid-19 patients died in a single day, were equated to a war movie. He added that the state is preparing to implement “statewide surge and flex” in which hospital systems must coordinate with one another to balance the load if need be.
“It’s in the patient’s best interest to distribute the patient load over the system. We’re not going to live through the nightmare of overwhelmed hospitals again,” Cuomo said. “If a hospital gets overwhelmed, there will be a state investigation.”
The state is also preparing plans for emergency field hospitals, which will add 50% bed capacity to hospitals, he said. Cuomo also urged hospitals to prepare to staff those field hospitals and confirm their stockpiles of personal protective equipment such as masks and gowns that keep health workers from getting infected. Cuomo said hospitals are supposed to have a “90-day stockpile of PPE.”
Cuomo said the state will launch a dashboard that tracks these emergency hospital metrics.
Ken Raske, president of Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents more than 250 hospitals, said that hospitals’ abilities to respond to the current outbreak will be “a total team effort.”
“The spring was brutal,” he said at the news briefing. “We were all worried about replicating the situation we saw so vividly in Italy with people lined up in the hallways. That never came to pass, thank God. We learned a lot.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio noted at the briefing that the number of daily new deaths in the city is far lower than it was in the spring, when hundreds died every day for weeks. He added that the city’s intensive care units are not as stressed as they were in the spring, either.
Cuomo and the other officials at the briefing said they were concerned about the rising cases, hospitalizations and deaths, especially because the effect of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings is yet to be seen. But Cuomo said the state can avoid another crisis.
“We know what we’re dealing with this time in a way we did not know in the spring,” he said. “Everything is a potential crisis, unless it’s managed properly. I think we’re going to be fine here on all of it, but we have our work cut out for us.”