Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to have the National Guard move unused ventilators from upstate hospitals to New York City sparked defiant vows from local hospital executives who said they will do everything they can to keep life-saving equipment here.
False rumors flew Friday night across social media that the National Guard had taken ventilators from Buffalo General Hospital, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and other medical centers in Buffalo.
Saturday morning, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz tweeted that the rumors were "categorically FALSE."
Kaleida Health, which includes Buffalo General, also strongly refuted the rumors.
“The National Guard was not at Buffalo General Medical Center or any of our other hospitals. Nor were ventilators or supplies taken from us," said Michael P. Hughes, Kaleida Health's chief of staff. "This type of misinformation only causes further panic and chaos in a time of great uncertainty."
On Saturday, after fierce blowback from upstate hospital leaders and politicians, Cuomo said he wants hospitals statewide to send 500 unused ventilators to New York City – which he said equals about 20% of the unused ventilators across the state.
Cuomo's office also announced that a shipment of 1,000 ventilators arrived Saturday from China at John F. Kennedy International Airport – a donation to New York by the Joseph and Clara Tsai Foundation. Cuomo also said the governor of Oregon has offered 140 ventilators for New York's stockpile.
It was not immediately clear whether the donations would have an impact on Cuomo's order for ventilators from upstate hospitals.
New York has struggled to obtain ventilators, said Cuomo, noting that a state order with a China supplier for 17,000 ventilators did not go through, yielding only 2,500.
"What do we do? We find what equipment we have, we use it the best we can," the governor said. "If you ask hospitals today what ventilators that you have that are unused and available, that they don’t need in the short term, and take 20% of that number, that’s 500 ventilators.
"Five hundred ventilators is a significant number," he said.
Cuomo said there would be a conference call Saturday with all hospitals "to coordinate equipment redeployment."
None taken from Buffalo so far
No ventilators have been taken from Catholic Health, Kaleida Health, Erie County Medical Center or Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital, spokespeople for those organizations told The Buffalo News Saturday.
In Buffalo, hospital leaders said they were sympathetic to New York City's increasingly desperate situation but that they are preparing their medical facilities for a possible surge of hospitalizations in the next few weeks – as the governor had ordered their hospitals to do.
"Catholic Health understands why Gov. Cuomo is compelled to take this action," Catholic Health President Mark Sullivan said in a statement Saturday. "He is watching unspeakable tragedies unfold in our state. If our system has capacity, we are willing to help our fellow New Yorkers at any time."
Catholic Health hospitals expect that all of their ventilators will be in use by mid-April, Sullivan said.
In the meantime, Sullivan said his hospitals are working with Cuomo and the state Health Department's teams to support its hospitals' "surge plans."
Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center President and CEO Joseph A. Ruffolo said his hospital "stands side-by-side with our partnering health systems in Erie County on holding onto the scarce and precious resources we have to save lives in Niagara County and surrounding areas."
He made clear: "Our equipment and our personal protective gear must stay here."
Kaleida Health continues to "vehemently oppose the Governor's executive order to take 20% of upstate hospitals' equipment and supplies. We will continue to fight this in an effort to protect our patients, as well as our physicians, nurses and staff during this pandemic," Hughes said Saturday.
There is a rumor that the National Guard took ventilators in the middle of the night from Roswell Park, Buffalo General and the other hospitals. That is categorically FALSE. Jody Lomeo of @KaleidaHealth and Candace Johnson of @RoswellPark both confirmed it to me this morning. pic.twitter.com/sdDmjyt2oC
— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) April 4, 2020
Poloncarz said at his Friday briefing that "our ventilators are not going to be taken away for the use up here to go downstate.”
The county executive said the governor noted that there has been an increase in use in hospitalizations and ICU in the Buffalo area, “so he is aware of this.”
“I know his staff is aware of this. There may be other places in New York state where they don’t have the outbreak or the hospitalization that we have here, but we need our ventilators and they’re not going anywhere,” Poloncarz said.