COVID cases fill several hospital beds in the city and threaten to stop by elective surgeries

With hospital admissions for COVID patients increasing rapidly, the number of available beds in several city-run hospitals has dropped to levels that could trigger a suspension of elective surgeries.

The Ministry of Health has the power to impose this restriction on hospitals with a low number of available beds in regions that experience a high degree of COVID admissions. Areas with an average of more than 4 new COVID patients per 100,000 residents each day above a seven-day average triggers the department’s potential intervention.

On Sunday, New York City passed this threshold, where the average number of new patients with COVID entering the city’s hospitals hit 4.76 per. 100,000 over the previous seven days, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

On Monday, that rate rose even higher to 5.48 new COVID patients per 100,000, shows city data. Both are well above the 4 new patients per. 100,000 cutoff.

The state Department of Health told THE CITY on Wednesday that the influx of COVID patients has not yet triggered the introduction of an elective surgical suspension.

The agency’s spokeswoman Erin Silk wrote in an email response, “New York City does not currently meet any of the street criteria to be included in the elective operations manual.” She did not specify these criteria.

On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio mentioned the 4.76 rate from Sunday, but did not mention the more recent data. He admitted that the rate was “very high”, but insisted that hospitals in New York City had the situation under control.

“Thank God, because of all the actions that have been taken, all the vaccination, our hospitals are handling the situation well,” he said.

Strained nurses

Healthcare professionals see the situation as more serious.

On Wednesday, officials in the nurse’s unions expressed concern that with the increasing number of COVID admissions, staff have again reached inadequate levels, reminiscent of the spring of 2020, when healthcare professionals struggled with overwhelming COVID patients.

“What good is a physical hospital bed if there is not a nurse to take care of the patient in bed?” said Pat Kane, an RN and director of the New York State Nurses Association.

“At a time when COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing and our healthcare system is once again coming under enormous pressure due to the highly transferable Omicron variant, healthcare systems and policy makers should take up the challenge by manning safely and protecting the front lines.”

Kane said the union is “very concerned that federal and state agencies and hospital administrators are instead cutting back on staffing levels, infection control and other health and safety measures, just when we need to protect healthcare professionals and our patients the most.”

The patient squeeze seems to hit the public hospitals the hardest.

Overall, the seven-day average bed capacity data for Tuesday shows that New York City hospitals reported 26% of available beds. In contrast, five of the 11 hospitals operated by the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation register bed availability rates of 15% or lower, state figures show.

Over the past few days, several public hospitals have reported bed availability at or below 10% – the level that Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday called the “danger zone.”

The latest figures for a single day suggest that the situation is becoming more urgent.

On Tuesday, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn dropped to the 7% mark, while Kings County in Brooklyn reported a 9% open bed capacity. On the same day, Elmhurst in Queens – one of the hardest hit hospitals when the pandemic first arrived in the spring of 2020 – hit the “danger zone” of 10%.

The State Hospital’s capacity data does not distinguish between COVID and non-COVID patients – but federal statistics suggest the growing role of COVID. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reporting for the week ending Dec. 26 shows that 11% of all hospital beds in Brooklyn and Queens are occupied by COVID patients, 8% in the Bronx and Staten Island, and 7% in Manhattan.

As of Tuesday, 3,178 people were hospitalized with COVID in New York City, according to the state Department of Health – up from about 1,000 in mid-December.

HHC spokeswoman Stephanie Guzmán said the agency is ready to rearrange staff and add beds if required.

“We are accelerating safe emissions and leveraging our level load to ensure capacity is manageable in the second,” she wrote in an email. “In addition, we are ready to continuously scale up the necessary capacity, which we have not had to do yet.”

Guzmán said the standard of 10% capacity “is of current beds as they are equipped. As a reminder, we tripled the capacity of the intensive care unit in the early days of the pandemic and have mechanisms to turn that shift even faster two years into the pandemic.”

Michael Lanza, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the agency “supports the state’s efforts to maintain the hospital capacity for serious illness, especially those with severe COVID-19.”

The department works with the Greater New York Hospital Association to coordinate efforts across all of the city’s hospitals “to provide support as we work together to end this wave,” Lanza added.

Briefly about Gear

Hospitals are also struggling with a state requirement to have at least a 60-day supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) on hand.

Hospitals must report their level of supply to the ward on the first Tuesday of each month. In November and so far this month, more than 20 hospitals reported being out of compliance with this rule, according to records obtained by THE CITY via Freedom of Information Law.

Two are in town: the Woodhull Hospital in East Williamsburg and the University Hospital of Brooklyn, part of the state-run SUNY Downstate Hospital system.

SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, August 21, 2020.

SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.
Ben Fractenberg / BYEN

Woodhull also lacks beds: On Monday, Woodhull reported a 7-day average of available beds of 10%.

Guzmán said that because all 11 HHC hospitals operate under the same management, Woodhull can get all the PPE it needs from a central warehouse that serves all city-run medical centers.

“We operate as a healthcare system with 11 hospitals and use key inventories to ensure our healthcare professionals have the right PPE while on the job,” she said. “We stay within the requirements of the state.”

Dawn Skeete Factor, a spokesman for SUNY Downstate, sent an email stating, “SUNY Downstate complies with NYS DOH PPE requirements. Based on our current patient capacity, we have a 90-day supply of PPE. This information will be reported to DOH on first Tuesday of each month. For clarification, the DOH was notified on 8 November (one day in advance) and again on 7 December. “

One factor that may contribute to the increase in hospitalization rates is the ease with which the Omicron variant spreads. A high percentage of patients admitted to hospitals in New York City for non-COVID-related problems test positive for COVID. This result requires the same intensive response that all COVID-specific patients receive.

The number of new COVID patients arriving daily at New York City hospitals is nowhere near what it was when the pandemic first peaked in the spring of 2020, when the 7-day average of new admissions hit 1,667 on April 4th. After the city closed down. , that number dropped sharply, and then rose again in the winter of 2020 with the arrival of the Delta variant to peak at 385 on February 10th.

This past Thanksgiving, the city’s hospitals had an average of about 53 new COVID patients daily, but then came the arrival of the highly contagious Omicron variant. The number of hospital admissions has since increased dramatically, reaching a 7-day average of 332 from Tuesday.

One pattern remains constant: People who are unvaccinated are about 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID infections than people who are fully vaccinated.

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