Governor Cuomo has required all hospitals to develop plans to expand capacity by a minimum of 50 percent, with a goal of expanding capacity by 100 percent.

by Dave Warner

On Sunday, Governor Cuomo announced a new State Department of Health Emergency Order requiring all hospitals to develop plans to expand capacity within hospitals. The plan must expand capacity by a minimum of 50 percent with a goal of expanding capacity by 100 percent.

In Little Falls, the hospital has been acting quickly to the requirements that have been coming from the state and according to Michael L. Ogden, President of the Hospital, they are ready.

“Though we weren’t expecting this current crisis, our world changed after 9/11 in the hospital healthcare environment at which time we began planning for all types of emergencies that we may be faced with and need to respond to. Much of that work involved getting us to follow the national incident command structure,” said Ogden.

He says that the Bassett network has advanced and matured that structure over the last few years. “I guess that’s where I get my personal confidence in our state of readiness.”

The hospital started limiting access to the building more than a week ago to the main lobby entrance, or the emergency room. “We’ve closed off access to other parts of the building. We now have staff at the vestibule area along with security to screen each and every person that is coming in to make sure they should be here and that they don’t have signs of the COVID-19 virus before they’re allowed to enter the building,” he stated.

At the emergency entrance, there is a phone outside for people to use so that an attendant can bring out personal protective equipment before entering the hospital. They have also created an External Evaluation Area (EEA) tent-based external site to provide more diagnostic evaluation, including chest radiology evaluation.

Photo by Dave Warner – The emergency room entrance to the Little Falls Hospital where an External Evaluation Area (EEA) has been set up to provide diagnostic evaluation.

Ogden said, “It allows us to evaluate and treat patients out there if required as the result of screening that may have been done elsewhere and people being sent here for further evaluation.”

Bassett stopped elective surgeries last week and because of that, affected staff members are being moved into a staff pool where they may be reassigned to cover other areas of need. It also allowed them to start saving some of the protective equipment that might be needed to treat COVID-19 patients.

“We’ve seen a lot of our services line demand go down, whether it’s for out-patient services or health centers and things like that. People are generally not busy unless it’s critical that they come to those services. So our first attempt would be to reallocate underutilized resources to an individual site to meet demands or the labor pool that allows us to share across the network,” he stated.

He said that they’ve also started to look at the Little Falls Volunteer Corp for potentially providing help for other programs. “We’re starting to see these local support groups coming together. I see that as very good preparation for us in case we get to a point where we are inundated and this becomes a long marathon for us. We may have to rely on some of those community volunteers in support areas of the hospital.”

The hospital has also started to identify retired healthcare professionals that may be out in the community.

The staff has had to adapt to a rapidly changing environment, and Ogden said that like everyone else, “we’re all human. We all have some level of anxiety related to this crisis and healthcare workers are no different.”

Overall though, he says the staff is responding very well. “When you come into our lobby, we have a mural that says ‘zero harm heroes’ and that’s related to our efforts to have a safe environment for our patients and staff. To me, that statement is no longer rhetorical. This brings it to reality for all of us and why we chose healthcare as our careers….to make a difference for our communities and all the patients that we serve.”

Ogden said, “We can’t work from home at a lot of our locations. These are the real heroes working here every day. I think the challenges that we have are the ones that you see in the news. We are facing that too. Getting the testing kids, viral transfer kits, personal protective equipment. We just want to keep our staff on the front lines fighting with the combat gear they need.”

He says that the hospital is the same as everyone else, where they are still waiting for more testing kits. “We’ve restricted our testing to in-patients at each of the facilities in addition to any healthcare workers that exhibit symptoms. We’ve had to severely limit testing for the public until we get increased supplies.”

When it comes to increasing the number of beds they have available for patients, Ogden says they are working to comply like everyone else in the Bassett network. “For us, we do have the ability to meet that 50% increase by using our inventory surgery space. We also have an area that was a former inventory surgery area that we are converting to negative pressure rooms, so we’ll be able to use that area for patients as well.”

Ogden said when it comes to community support, he has been pleased, but not surprised. “So many people have stepped forward and offered to do things. From sewing masks to providing spiritual support, to establishing volunteer resources…things like that.”

He wants people to think about how they would help if that call to action happens. “For example, daycare or pet care that could help support our staff. People know healthcare workers that are coming to work every day, working long hours and trying to meet this demand…how would they support those friends, neighbors, and family members?”

At this point, Ogen said that he’s happy there hasn’t been a big run on the hospital for testing. “It seems people are keeping pretty well informed. The hospital isn’t where you need to come if you’re having symptoms of the virus as a first measure. The community has been responsive to that.”

He wants everyone to continue practicing social distancing, wash their hands, and “all those things that are in front of us each and every hour of the day.”

“I think this situation brings to light the importance of healthcare in our communities and the healthcare workers that come prepared every day to meet challenges and face some very difficult circumstances that the public doesn’t even know about or are aware of.”

“This level really brings that to light. We have people that are really dedicated and committed to their profession and this is what is shining through,” he stated.

Bassett has set up a phone number for people to call if they suspect that they have the COVID-19 virus. If you feel like you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, call 607-547-5555 to learn if an in-person examination is necessary. Here is how the response has been as of yesterday:

  • Number of calls handled by the Bassett Healthcare Network Covid-19 hotline since its inception = 3,297
  • Calls triaged to the registered nurse line = 2,902
  • Calls referred by RNs to practitioners for follow-up by phone = 850
  • Patient visits to screening tents 451
  • Patients tested for COVID-19 = 246

For more information about COVID-19 and Bassett’s response, visit bassett.org/covid-19.