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Hospitals continue to shift planning, visitation with expected hike in coronavirus cases

Hospitals across the region continue to update visitor limitations, may soon start to cancel elective surgeries and will make other changes as needed while leaders and staff gear up for a potential surge of patients tied to COVID-19.

Officials at most hospital systems were meeting Monday to lay plans for what comes next as illnesses related to the novel coronavirus begin to play a larger role on their operations.

Health planners in Erie County and elsewhere across the state also are looking at how other facilities, including the former County Home in Alden, once a tuberculosis hospital and later a nursing facility, might be retooled if acute-care demand outstrips available supply in the weeks and months to come.

There are about 53,000 available hospital beds statewide. That includes 3,000 intensive care unit beds, about 80% of which already are occupied, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said over the weekend.

That will leave a limited number of ICU beds and ventilators available for those who become the most seriously ill from COVID-19.

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It also helps explain why regional, state and federal officials have declared states of emergency that limit public interaction and impose other inconveniences, which will become more restrictive if the number of cases, and deaths, climb as feared.

Erie County health officials reported Sunday that seven people in the county and two from Allegany County have so far tested positive with COVID-19 in tests conducted at the county lab. Dozens more have been quarantined in the region, including four in Niagara County.

Statewide as of Monday morning, 746 cases have been reported, mostly in and around New York City, including six deaths.

So far, about 17% of those in the state have needed hospitalization, Cuomo said.

“We know what is going to happen because we have the data,” Cuomo said Sunday. The goal: “Do everything you can to reduce the wave,” he said, “but it’s still going to be a wave” that likely will overwhelm the hospital system.

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, said during a Monday afternoon presidential press conference that two things in COVID-19 infection models flatten that curve the most: first, that those who live with people who test positive stay home with that person once that determination is made, and that others continue to keep social distance from all but a small circle of no more than 10 others.

Birx said she told her two daughters that millennials like them "are the core group that will stop the virus" by following recommendations to keep the spread under the most control.

To help slow the wave regionally to the most vulnerable, Erie County Medical Center and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center announced restrictions Sunday on who will be allowed into their facilities.

Only staff, patients and their visitors will be welcome into Erie County Medical Center for at least the next week, maybe longer, as part of the effort to protect against COVID-19. All volunteers, vendors and medical and nursing students will not be admitted to ECMC facilities. Medical residents will still be able to enter, officials with the Grider Street hospital said.

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Roswell Park announced Monday that patients can see only one visitor at a time in its main hospital, outpatient centers and its community practice locations until further notice. The hospitality room and gift shop are closed going forward.

Patients and visitors also are asked not to bring anyone under 16 to Roswell Park locations, when possible. Those under 16 who need to visit under special circumstances will be screened for signs of illness.

The VA Western New York Healthcare System announced Monday that it will suspend all visitation starting at 6 a.m. Tuesday in all its facilities, including its hospitals in North Buffalo and Batavia.

Veterans who have a scheduled appointment should keep it and those in need of the emergency department are welcome. Those in need of a walk-in clinic appointment should call ahead. The Primary Care Call Center is 862-8567; Specialty Clinic Call Center is 716-862-8788; and Mental Health Walk-in Clinic is 716-862-3117. The VA also has a Nurse Helpline open all hours at 800-877-6976.

Kaleida Health hospital officials on Sunday said restrictions imposed last week remained. That includes no more than two visitors, including family members, at hospital bedsides, and all those who are under 14 and have traveled outside the U.S. during the last two weeks.

Visitors are prohibited at the HighPointe on Michigan long-term care facility and DeGraff Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Facility by a state health department mandate, except in end-of-life or palliative care cases. This applied to long-term care facilities statewide.

As is the case with all health care facilities, Kaleida asks all who are sick to stay away and those who visit to wash their hands thoroughly, especially before and after visits.

Catholic Health has imposed similar visitation rules at its hospitals and nursing homes. Officials also announced on the health system’s website Monday that they will cancel all outpatient education programs, health screenings, support groups, seminars and community events.

Those registered for classes and programs will be contacted with more information, including at-home and online learning opportunities. The hospital asks those who seek more information to call HealthConnection at 716-447-6205 or visit

Catholic Health information technology specialists have been at work in recent days trying to better connect loved ones with those in its five long-term facilities who have been unable to see visitors.

The health system purchased 20 iPads and deployed them at Father Baker Manor in Orchard Park, McAuley Residence in the Town of Tonawanda, Mercy Nursing Facility at OLV in Lackawanna, and St. Catherine Labouré Health Care Center in Buffalo, as well as St. Francis Park adult care community in Hamburg.

Staff has been trained to use the computer devices, along with Catholic Health’s video conferencing capabilities.

“We are committed to protecting the health and safety of our residents, patients and staff but we understand this is a difficult situation for everyone involved,” Tom Gleason, senior vice president of Home & Community Based Care, said in a news release. “We’re working hard to ease the concerns of family members by providing them with regular updates and giving them the opportunity to stay engaged with their loved ones during this unprecedented situation.”

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center on Monday curtailed visiting hours on the medical units to noon to 3 p.m. daily. Visitation on the behavioral health floors will be from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Patient visitation is limited to immediate family members or significant others who have been authorized by the patient. Only one visitor at a time will be permitted. Visitors under age 14 will not permitted.

All visitors will be asked to sign in and undergo a medical screening at Memorial’s first-floor Information Desk in addition to signing in at the nurses station on the unit they visit. Emergency Department visitors will be asked to sign in at the registration desk in the ER1 waiting room.

“Although this will result in additional inconvenience we can’t overstate the importance of taking these steps to mitigate the spread of this coronavirus and to protect our patients, staff and the community,” Memorial Vice President & Chief Nursing Officer JoAnn Pellegrino said.


Twitter: @BNrefresh@ScottBScanlon

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