Although the worst impacts are being felt downstate, the coronavirus pandemic is an acute concern at hospitals across upstate New York. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas spoke with Albany Medical Center President and CEO Dr. Dennis McKenna.
McKenna says the patient population has dwindled as COVID-19 has been running its course: 478 people were hospitalized as of mid-week. No patients have arrived from downstate in several days. "Normally on a Wednesday, before there was COVID-19, we might have as many as 700, or on some days 750 patients in the hospital. So we have obviously significantly less people in the hospital than we had in the past. The COVID-19 population is currently 61. That breakdown is 36 on the floor and 25 in the ICU, and that number is actually lower than it was a week or so ago. So we think that we're seeing an apex or a plateauing of the of the volume of activity not only here in the medical center but in the region."
A vastly different scenario than the images of New York City hospitals that have been flashing across our televisions. McKenna stresses Albany Med's emergency room is open for non-COVID patients. "I'm an emergency medicine physician. And I was doing a shift in the emergency department just the other day. And the phone rang up at the front desk and I heard the clerk saying on the phone to the person who called in 'yes, we are open.' And I asked them, I said 'what was that about?' They said 'oh, we get phone calls all day every day from people asking if the emergency department is still open.' So let me be very clear about that. The emergency department is open 24/7, we're able to care for anybody's emergency medical needs, whether they be related to COVID-19 or not. In point of fact, we're encouraging people to not delay seeking care for medical conditions that they're worried about heart problems, stroke conditions, belly pain, these are things that should not be delayed."
Unionized ICU nurses at Albany Med have been raising concerns that they don't have an adequate supply of PPE. McKenna says the hospital is well-stocked. "We have enough rooms, we have enough IC rooms, we have enough ventilators and we monitor our protective equipment or PPE, personal protective equipment every day. I would include masks. there's basically two different types of masks, face shields, gloves. gallons, we have adequate supplies for all of them."
McKenna says he is familiar with the nurses’ concerns but insists there should be no problem with anybody having the appropriate protective equipment. He adds that includes nurses who were protesting outside the hospital on Saturday, saying they had to reuse masks. McKenna says N95 masks go through a disinfectant process for reuse following CDC guidelines to ensure an adequate supply. "Any nurse who works here at Albany Medical Center, even prior to today, has always had access to all the people that they need to care for patients that that's never been in issue."
McKenna says the financial impact wrought by the pandemic is significant, not just for Albany Med, but every hospital across the region. "We we currently have no plans to furlough anybody. I'm very proud of that. We are acutely aware that other hospitals in the region have taken that step. In some cases, some of them have furloughed a couple hundred employees. At this time, we're not. We're taking members of our workforce who can work at home, and we're having them work at home. If there are people who are at the bedside normally and do clinical work, but those areas that they work in have been closed down temporarily, in many cases, we're taking those same employees and we're putting them on what's called standby leave. And that means that they are also at home, but they're getting their full pay and benefits."
McKenna notes hospitals in general will have a lot of catching up to do, trying to manage the influx of patients whose procedures or surgeries have been postponed until the crisis lifts. For now, Albany Med is continuing essential surgeries that can’t be put off. "Once we're given the opportunity to start doing those again, Albany Med is going to have to run our operating rooms more hours in the day and more days of the week for elective cases to make up for that backlog. And we're starting to make plans right now and how to do that. The challenge is we just don't know when we're going to be able to turn that back on yet."