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Catholic Health steps up

CEO Mark Sullivan and Catholic Health made a bold move by announcing that St. Joseph Campus for Sisters of Charity Hospital will become the state’s first hospital dedicated to treating novel coronavirus.

Catholic Health’s plan represents a creative solution to the pandemic that is putting our health care system to a test unlike any it has faced in recent memory. And, as Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, “They cut on a dime,” putting the plan into motion in a remarkably short time.

St. Joseph was on a list of 57 hospitals in New York recommended for closing by the State Commission on Healthcare Facilities in a 2006 report. Like a boxer that refuses to get knocked out, the facility has stayed alive through the partnership it formed in 2009 with Sisters of Charity Hospital.

The facility on Harlem Road will have 55 to 60 critical care beds and 100 to 120 beds in all for Covid-19 patients, Sullivan announced. He said the hospital will handle 20% of patients expected to need hospitalization and the 5% who will need intensive care, and it should be up and running soon.

Sullivan said that Mount St. Mary’s Hospital may also be used to handle coronavirus cases in Niagara County.

Catholic Health, a $1 billion organization and the region’s second-largest health system, has faced many of the same challenges confronting other providers, including reduced reimbursement rates from payers. The company announced last November it was cutting about 200 jobs, half from employee buyouts.

Kaleida Health, coping with similar economic realities, on Jan. 1 shifted in-patient care from DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda to Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Amherst. Kaleida is likely to press DeGraff into service for coronavirus patients. to meet new state mandates on bed capacity during the current crisis.

The repurposing of a sometimes underutilized hospital into one used expressly to treat Covid-19 patients is sure to become a model for the rest of the state. A major benefit will be the efficiency of focusing medical resources – including ventilators and personal protection equipment – into one facility.

Creativity will serve us well in the public health crisis confronting us. Poloncarz said there have been discussions about using the former Women & Children’s Hospital and the Buffalo Grand Hotel as temporary Covid-19 hospitals.

Elsewhere, State Sen. George Borrello and Assemblyman Joseph Giglio, both Republicans, this week urged the state to revive the recently closed TLC/Lakeshore hospital in Irving as a temporary facility for Covid-19 cases. It’s an idea worth serious consideration.

Another innovation proposed by lawmakers shows great potential: A state-created program to train citizens quickly in health care skills that would allow them to become nurse’s aides and fill other positions.

State Sen. Tim Kennedy authored the initiative, and 28 other Democratic senators have signed on. The idea is to ramp up training that typically takes more than a month and compress it into about two weeks.

The newly deputized workers would not be expected to fill the roles of higher-level medical pros, but would complement them and give first responders needed assistance. And, workers who have recently been laid off during the coronavirus downturn would have a chance, through the training, to land work that comes with a paycheck and the chance to make a meaningful contribution to society.

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