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DeGraff may reopen to provide more hospital beds, Kaleida announces

Kaleida Health announced Saturday that its response to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's demand for 50% more hospital beds could include the reopening of DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda.

The health system also said it may add more intensive care beds at all of its sites, including DeGraff, Buffalo General Medical Center, Oishei Children's Hospital, Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Olean General Hospital and Bradford Regional Medical Center.

"We have to put together a plan," Kaleida Senior Vice President Michael P. Hughes said. "Really, it's a systemwide plan to respond to whatever we're hit with."

The plan, which Kaleida must submit to the State Health Department by Tuesday, came as all New York State hospitals scrambled to increase capacity to deal with a potential surge in Covid-19 patients. Underused or unused facilities have been eyed as part of the answer to the crisis.

Thursday, Catholic Health designated the St. Joseph Campus of Sisters of Charity Hospital as the state's first Covid-19 hospital.

In preparation for that role, the Cheektowaga hospital announced the indefinite closure of its emergency department as of 7 p.m. Saturday.

Catholic Health said the conversion process is still being planned, and St. Joseph is not yet ready to accept patients infected with the novel coronavirus.

But Catholic Health said it has notified first responders of the emergency room shutdown.

Emergency departments at other Catholic Health hospitals remain open.

The St. Joseph Campus will handle the 20% of patients expected to need hospitalization and the 5% who will need intensive care, Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan said Thursday.

Tuesday, Eastern Niagara Hospital agreed to allow the Niagara County Health Department to reopen the former Inter-Community Memorial Hospital in Newfane as a quarantine center, should that become necessary.

Niagara County had sought to use DeGraff as a quarantine site, too, but those talks didn't get far.

"DeGraff has always been part of a surge plan for us," Hughes said.

Inpatient care at DeGraff, which had as many as 169 beds during its time as a full-service hospital, ceased on Jan. 1. Now it includes only an emergency department and a nursing home, whose operations would not be affected by reopening the hospital,  Hughes said.

Other aspects in Kaleida's plan also may include doubling up private rooms; converting old rooms or space; and placing beds in ambulatory surgical centers or ambulatory surgical spaces.

Meeting the state's goal of adding 50% to capacity could mean more than 300 new beds in the Kaleida system, Hughes said. It also means that Kaleida's notion of selling the five-story DeGraff tower is on hold, he confirmed.

"We have taken the approach that the surge is likely coming and that a major spike in positive coronavirus cases will result in sicker patients and increased admissions across the community and our health system,” said Jody L. Lomeo, Kaleida CEO. "Having regulatory relief and clear direction from the state can only help us as we move forward.”

More beds means a need for more personnel. “We are and will continue to be creative in all areas so we can maximize ancillary staff, nursing and physicians," Lomeo said.

Hughes said doctors who have a particular specialty may have to set that aside.

"If you are an orthopedic surgeon or a general surgeon and the operating rooms are not running because we're overwhelmed with ICU patients, you may have to work as a hospitalist or an emergency room doc or a primary care doc," Hughes said.

Bringing back recently retired physicians and nurses also may be necessary.

"In Western New York there's hundreds and hundreds over the past couple of years," Hughes said.

State officials also have said certification may be expedited for students who are soon to graduate from health sciences, nursing and medical school programs.

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