A New York State Health Department list of hospitals facing a temporary suspension of elective healthcare procedures to free up beds for surging COVID-19 cases does not include any facilities in the Southern Tier.
An initial list of facilities released earlier this week included 37 hospitals from around the state, including UHS Wilson Medical Center in Broome County and Hornell's St. James Hospital in Steuben County.
Neither UHS Wilson nor St. James are included on a report distributed by the state Health Department on Friday. The list includes six facilities in the Finger Lakes region and six in western New York.
The move to temporarily suspend some hospitals' elective care, which spans from hip replacements to preventive screenings for diseases like cancer, is part of an executive order issued last week by Gov. Kathy Hochul and applies to hospitals operating at below 10% staffed bed capacity.
The list of hospitals due to be affected because of the lack of capacity was subject to change, according to the state Department of Health.
Healthcare leaders have acknowledged the list of hospitals at risk could fluctuate as health centers statewide struggle with staffing shortages and waves of COVID-19 patients.
State Health Department spokesman Eric Silk noted that while the governor’s order became effective on Friday, no hospitals have been directed to limit procedures.
Silk said determinations will be issued to facilities by Dec. 6 to apply to procedures scheduled to occur on or after Dec. 9.
How Southern Tier hospitals respond
On Wednesday, St. James officials said the hospital "has temporarily paused" elective surgical procedures ahead of Friday's effective date for the state order and it will review the situation on a weekly basis.
St. James Hospital added that they are aware of the updated state list. Officials said the hospital continues experiencing significant volumes in its inpatient unit, emergency department and urgent care center.
Designated as a 24-hour trauma, stroke and chest pain center, UHS Wilson Medical Center is a 280-bed medical clinic in Johnson City. Officials there were taking a wait-and-see approach earlier this week, with the hospital saying UHS was waiting for more information and guidance from the state, but all procedures are continuing normally.
“This is triage,” Broome County Executive Jason Garnar said in a virtual address Friday morning in anticipation of the state’s most recent guidance. “We have a certain capacity in our hospitals, and that capacity is being quickly eliminated. Now we are forced to make those tough choices: Who needs the most direct medical attention?”
Garnar reported 170 new cases among county residents — among the highest daily case counts since the January surge — and 1,024 total active cases as of Friday.
Sixty-seven Broome County residents are currently hospitalized with COVID, Garnar said. Although hospitalization rates remain much lower than previous pandemic peaks, the surge is further compounded by staffing shortages at area hospitals and nursing homes, limiting the number of available beds.
“We’re very concerned that COVID cases are going to push hospitals over the brink,” Garnar said, highlighting the decreased ability for hospitals to discharge patients into nursing home care amid staffing shortages.
National Guard members headed to Willow Point
County-owned Willow Point Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Vestal is slated to receive 12 National Guard members next week to alleviate its own staffing shortage, which prompted the closure of a third ward last month.
Hochul signed an executive order earlier this week deploying about 100 National Guard members to nursing homes across the state to fill needed staffing slots.
The Guard members are expected to remain in Broome County through at least mid-January, at which point the state will reevaluate the situation.
Garnar reported a lull in new cases reported during Thanksgiving week, noting that “very few people get tested around the holidays,” but predicted a mounting surge of hospitalizations as the fallout from holiday gatherings continues to materialize, with new daily case counts expected to exceed 200 by next week and 300 after the holidays.
Most of the newly reported cases are linked to household spread among family members.
“I am not sure what’s going to happen if these numbers continue to increase,” he said. “It’s going to be a very, very bad scenario for our hospitals and our health department.”
Positive cases correlate with hospitalization rates, Garnar said, with a two-week delay as the virus incubates and symptoms begin to develop.
“We’re at a point where this is about personal responsibility. It’s about whether or not you care about your neighbors and your community,” Garnar said.
“You can’t legislate or mandate personal responsibility. That’s on you,” he continued. “What I’m asking people in the community to do is to think about others and do the right thing: wear a mask, get a vaccine and do your part. It’s simple, it works. Let’s do it together.”
Vaccination rates not rising in Broome County
Garnar launched the Boost It Broome campaign, receiving his own booster dose during the live broadcast from Melissa Brennan of the Broome County Health Department, who administered Hochul’s booster shot during a visit to Johnson City in October.
According to county data, 66% of Broome County residents have had one dose of the vaccine and 60% have had two doses.
“Those numbers have been pretty much stagnant for the last couple of months,” Garnar said, hailing vaccines and booster shots as “the key to ending this locally and across the country.”
Broome County is continuing its partnership with local school districts to vaccinate its youngest residents.
To date, 346 students ages 5 and older have been vaccinated through the state’s Vax to School program, Garnar said, though the actual number of children vaccinated is likely much higher when shots administered at pharmacies or local hospitals are factored in.
With the help of additional personnel from the state Department of Health, the Broome County Health Department is expanding COVID testing appointments to 150 next week and 250 the following week, Garnar said.
One out of every seven testing samples collected statewide is sent to Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany for further sequencing to test for coronavirus variants, including omicron, according to Mary McFadden, interim director of the Broome County Health Department.
New York reported its first cases of the omicron variant from the New York City area Thursday.
Regarding further mandates, including the reinstitution of a universal indoor mask-wearing policy similar to the one adopted last month by Erie County, Garnar said “all options are on the table.”
Mandates are typically enforced at the discretion of local police departments, Garnar said, many of which declined to take any action in response to mask-wearing and public gathering mandates issued during the early months of the pandemic.
This article originally appeared on Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin: NY hospital limitations won't impact Southern Tier hospitals