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Buffalo area hospitals start screening workers, patients for COVID-19, postpone surgeries

Hospitals across the Buffalo Niagara region continue to tighten their grip on visitation, have begun to cancel at least some elective surgeries and decided to screen everyone who arrives for work or treatment.

“COVID-19/Novel Coronavirus is here in our community, is moving through Western New York, and odds are, we will most likely have to deal with it here at Kaleida Health in some way, shape or form in the coming days and weeks,” Kaleida President and CEO Jody L. Lomeo said in a message on the system’s website Tuesday. “That said, we continue to implement our emergency preparedness plans to address this pandemic.”

All five Kaleida hospitals and its Coventus medical office building at 6 a.m. Tuesday started screening all employees, physicians, patients and visitors for infectious diseases and recent travel history before allowing them to enter.

Starting Wednesday morning, staff at those hospitals, as well as all five Catholic Health hospitals and Erie County Medical Center, will be among health care facilities where staff starts taking temperature readings at the forehead or ear for all who would enter.

Regional nursing homes affiliated with the hospitals started that protocol as far back as two weeks ago.

Hospital officials said those who need to go to the hospital, including emergency room, should expect to need extra time to go through the screening process.

Hospital systems also have restricted visiting hours, asked workers who can to work from home and eliminated some, if not all, elective surgeries.

They also reported that more changes will come as the situation warrants.

Hospital leaders said they are taking steps out of an abundance of caution, though also have an expectation that a growing number of those who get sick from COVID-19 will stretch their staffs, occupancy rates and equipment and resources.

Despite school closings, staffing has been healthy at regional hospitals so far, according to officials.

“We had very few of our ECMC family call in today due to child-care issues,” Thomas Quatroche Jr., CEO at ECMC, said in an email. “I could not be more proud of their commitment to our patients and this community.”

Below is a breakdown of the latest information by hospital or hospital system. Visitor policies and other guidelines may change at any time based on needs. Catholic Health, Erie County Medical CenterKaleida HealthRoswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and other regional hospitals have sections on their homepages that include updates for patients, visitors (including guidelines) and vendors, as well as related prevention and care topics.


Coronavirus outbreak coverage


Catholic Health announced it will take the following actions starting Wednesday at its hospitals, Kenmore Mercy, Mercy, Mount St. Mary’s, Sisters of Charity and Sisters – St. Joseph Campus.

Visiting hours: All hospital visitation is being suspended except for patients receiving end-of-life care or who have had a change in their health status, as well as fathers, spouses and life partners of maternity patients. Under those circumstances, one visitor will be allowed per patient after they go through a health screen and temperature scan. Catholic Health staff will have to submit to a verbal health screening and starting Wednesday morning a temperature scan before they can enter any Catholic Health building – and, where possible, will be asked to work from home.

Elective procedures: All elective surgeries will be cancelled unless deemed medically urgent by a patient’s medical provider.

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 447-6205 or visit

“Catholic Health is taking these aggressive and prudent measures to limit the spread of coronavirus in our community and ensure our health system stands ready to care for those who are sick and injured,” the hospital system said in a statement.


Visitors: Those prohibited include people who have been outside the U.S. during the last two week, who are sick or 14 and younger. There is a limit of one visitor per patient at a time. HighPointe on Michigan and DeGraff Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Facility will no longer allow visitors except in end-of-life or palliative care situations as determined by staff.

Pediatric patients will be permitted two visitors with a limit of one per patient at the bedside at any given time. A designated partner or caregiver can stay with a mom delivering baby on labor and delivery units . There will be a limit of one caregiver in the Emergency Department, same-day surgery and minor procedure areas.

Families and loved will be required to contact the nursing unit directly to arrange for visitation. 

Screenings: Staff starting at 6 a.m. Wednesday will screen all employees, clinicians, patients, and visitors, including taking temperatures at Buffalo General Medical Center, Gates Vascular Institute, DeGraff Memorial Hospital, Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Oishei Children’s Hospital.

Elective procedures: Elective surgeries that would involve extended inpatient stays, take up critical care beds and require ICU time will be canceled, though not all procedures will.  "Our focus is on preserving these critical resources and to ensure we are prepared should a surge occur," Lomeo said.


Visiting hours: Only staff, patients and their visitors will be welcome into ECMC, the regional trauma hospital, for at least the next week. All volunteers, vendors and medical and nursing students will not be admitted to ECMC facilities. Medical residents will still be able to enter.

Family members are not considered visitors; they are part of a patient’s care team. They are exempt from the hospital's enhanced visitation policy and may visit starting from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday  in general rooms and from 1 to 2:30 and 6 to 8 p.m. in behavioral units, though special arrangements can be made with staff, depending on circumstances. Other areas of the hospital will have more restrictive hours. Loved ones are advised to wear a surgical mask if they are ill. If their family member is on transmission-based precautions, they must follow protective equipment protocols.

Screenings: Staff starting at 5 a.m. Wednesday will screen all employees, clinicians, patients, and visitors, including taking temperatures.


Visitors: Curtailed 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.


Visitors: 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. 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.

Elective procedures: Elective surgeries will be canceled only should doctors handling individual cases decide that is best.

Appointments: If your care team feels your next appointment, procedure, or surgery can or should be canceled, they will contact you directly. Non-urgent or routine appointments that can be safely postponed will be done at the discretion of your treating physician.

Virtual or over-the-phone appointments: Roswell Park expects to have telehealth options available to many of our patients soon. If you have not yet done so, please register on the MyRoswell portal to make sure that you can take advantage of these options if appropriate.

Immunocompromised patients: Roswell providers recommend patients stay at least 6 feet away from others and limit movement to trips and activities that are absolutely necessary, as well as postponing non-essential travel. They also recommend the same for your household members and close contacts.

Those experiencing flu-like respiratory symptoms: It doesn’t mean you have COVID-19. If you have a fever, are coughing or sneezing, call your clinical care team before coming to Roswell Park or any medical facility. If you have access to a mask, put it on while out in public to avoid spread.

Roswell Park events scheduled from now until at least May 1 are canceled, postponed, or being held virtually.


Visitors: 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.

-  News Staff Write Sandra Tan contributed to this report


Twitter: @BNrefresh@ScottBScanlon

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