As WNY heads for phase 2 reopening, hospitals stay ahead of coronavirus curve

"We had a great plan so this was never a crisis for us"

Tom Puckett
June 01, 2020 - 4:00 am
Triage tent set up outside of Mercy Hospital in Buffalo. March 27, 2020 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

Triage tent set up outside of Mercy Hospital in Buffalo. March 27, 2020 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

Buffalo, NY (WBEN) Western New York is headed toward phase two of reopening from a coronavirus shutdown as soon as Tuesday, and hospitalizations resulting from COVID-19 is one of the metrics all regions across New York State are being judged by in determining reopening status.  Those numbers have been encouraging for the western region of the state in recent days as hospitals continue to manage COVID-19 cases, but on a declining basis.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, regional hospital operators have implemented plans to maintain bed and ICU availability and look back at their successful efforts at keeping major hospitals open and operating smoothly.

Both Catholic Health and Kaleida Health say they used some creative methods to maintain bed capacity as they dealt with coronavirus and the potential surge.

Catholic Health's Mark Sullivan says hospitals were caring for patients as they normally did. "Whatever surge was coming from COVID was taxing the traditional health care model in WNY. So Catholic Health sat down and said we can't use a traditonal approach. What unique way can we deliver care and ensure our bed census is there, and that's when we created the first COVID only hospital in the country at St. Joseph's in Cheektowaga. That enabled us to decompress all of our other hospitals. As of today, we have two COVID patients at our hospitals, and we've cared for more than 700 at the St. Joseph's campus," says Sullivan. Sullivan says the same thing was done with a first in the state COVID only nursing home, which allowed discharges from St. Joseph's to the nursing home facility.

Sullivan says Catholic Health was asked to be able to handle a 50 percent capacity surge. "We were positioned to handle up to 75 percent capacity surge through some creative solutions like using anesthesia machines as ventilators, and what we call predictive analytics," says Sullivan. "We were able to determine how many ventilators we would need, how many filters for the ventilators, how much staff we would need. Every day, twice a day we were able to evaluate that. We were continuing to build the infrastructure and our assets based on predictions of the surge we were looking at," notes Sullivan.

Sullivan says by having that approach at St. Joseph's, other hospitals could have the flexibility to do rapid testing at emergency rooms, they could discharge patients from those hospitals to St. Joseph's. "When there's uncertainty, you want to make as much certainty with the things you can control, that way you can handle the uncertainty much eaiser," says Sullivan. He says that also helped in Catholic Health getting a waiver from the state to start elective surgeries.

"We had a great plan and some great work from our emergency preparedness folks so it was never a crisis for us," says Chris Lane, President of Buffalo General Hospital. "We always had ample equipment, ventilators, ICU beds, protective equipment, and we were able to mobilize quickly so we could flex our capabilites quickly so it allowed us to not have a concern related to that."

Lane says there is a current downtrend in the number of COVID patients, which he credits to social distancing.

When it came to preparing for a potential surge, Lane says the hospitals mobilized units in different ways. "Be it additional ICU beds or telemetry beds, we increased our capacity to handle that. At one point, we had ten units to treat patients, we're down to three units, which is great to see," says Lane. "We took an inventory of beds from an availability and capability standpoint, we're looking throughout the hospital for where that inventory was and having it readily available, and bringing in new equipment if need be. We brought in 100 new beds in the event of the surge."



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