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Monroe County hospitals prepare for coronavirus ‘surge’


Officials from Monroe County and its two privately-operated hospital systems on Friday outlined a four-phase plan designed to handle a surge in COVID-19-related hospitalizations.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, acting on the advice of pandemic modelling experts, directed hospital systems and counties across the state to develop these plans in anticipation of a crush of cases in some areas, most notably in New York City and some downstate counties.

“It’s the job of our health system to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Dr. Michael Apostolakos, URMC’s chief medical officer, said during a news briefing.

Right now, the region has 1,964 hospital beds but the county and the hospital systems could, through a phased approach, boost the number to 4,044 beds, County Executive Adam Bello said.
Strong Memorial Hospital has set up an emergency department check-in tent at the facility's entrance. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Strong Memorial Hospital has set up an emergency department check-in tent at the facility's entrance.
The hospitals in the University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health systems have already put off non-urgent surgeries and procedures to free up existing beds. That’s phase one.

The rest of the phases will require additional equipment and staffing. The hospital systems are beginning to prepare for the latter by retraining existing medical workers, such as clinical or surgical staff, to work in an inpatient setting.

Phase two involves setting up and equipping hundreds of new beds in clinical and ambulatory space at hospitals. During phase three, the hospitals would double-up non-coronavirus patients in rooms.

The county, in consultation with the state and the hospital systems, would establish a 500- to 1,000-bed field hospital as phase four. Bello said the county has identified four potential locations, is in talks with the owners, and will begin touring them Friday afternoon.

In China and Italy, sudden influxes of coronavirus cases overwhelmed their health systems, forcing medical staff to make tough decisions about how to care for patients or which patients even received care.

Hospitals in New York City are now feeling strain from coronavirus patients. The New York Times reported that a Federal Emergency Management brief from earlier this week cautioned that New York City’s 1,800 intensive care unit beds could be filled by Friday.

Locally, the situation isn’t dire, at least not yet.

Kathy Parrinello, the chief operating officer for Strong Memorial Hospital, said the URMC system has 145 ICU beds, while the Rochester Regional system has just over 100.

The county reported that, as of 4 p.m. Friday, 33 people were hospitalized with coronavirus, 21 of them were in ICUs. The report stated that the county had 166 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Most coronavirus cases do not require hospitalization.

The state health department is requiring hospitals to report on the number of available ICU beds, surge beds, and ventilators. Health system administrators see that as a good thing.

“We can monitor very carefully across our entire community exactly what’s going on in terms of use of hospital beds,” Parrinello said.

The speakers at Friday’s briefing also made one point abundantly clear: whether they have to go to phase two or phase three, or whether they have to build a field hospital depends largely on what the public does.

“This chapter has yet to be written,” Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Michael Mendoza said. “The extent to which we succeed as a community with social distancing, all the measures that we put into place, will determine if and when we even need to go to phase two. If we can manage to stay home, if we can manage to only limit people who are essential to going to work, very frankly we may never need to get to phase two, and that is certainly our hope.”

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at [email protected].