Capital Region doctors react to new DOH guidance on capacity, confirmed NYS omicron cases

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CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Friday marks Governor Hochul’s deadline for hospitals to free up space in their beds or else start limiting elective procedures. Capital Region healthcare leaders say they started the day fairly unaware how to go forward while facing the governor’s November 26 executive order which set the standard at 10 percent or higher free capacity.

“That capacity number changes literally on an hourly basis. It’s not clear that you have to be 10 percent or less several days in a row, nor is it clear what you actually have to do. Do you have to close all elective surgeries? Some elective surgeries?” asks Dr. Steven Hanks, the Saint Peter’s Health Partners chief operating officer and chief clinical officer.

Fortunately by mid-afternoon, NYS Department of Health sent out a memo to all hospital administrators clarifying there’s just a bit more time to prepare. Despite the previously announced Friday deadline, the updated guidance now says the DOH will officially start reviewing data the week of December 13, impacted facilities will be notified that Friday, and any limitations will come the following Thursday, December 23.

Hospitals will be evaluated based on current or decreasing regional capacity with the following standards:

Staffed acute bed occupancy rate for the region at 90% or higher (based on the previous 7-day average); OR

Staffed acute bed occupancy rate for the region at 85-90% (based on the previous 7-day average) AND New COVID-19 hospital admission rate for the region (previous 7-day average per 100,000 population) is greater than 4.0

The guidance further adds:

DOH retains the discretion to require any facility to limit non-essential elective procedures and/or implement other actions to coordinate services, as determined by DOH as necessary to protect public health.

“We intend to be good partners with the state, and early on in the pandemic, Governor Cuomo had done a shut down and then a very careful, guided ramp up. So we are used to this,” says Glens Falls Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Howard Fritz. “However, one-size-fits all guidance is usually a challenge, because in individual hospitals, individual communities with teams that are already attuned to circumstances like the previous shutdown and ramp up, we’ve got a pretty good handle on things. Arbitrary numbers and blanket statements are a little bit difficult when we know what we can do.”

Dr. Fritz explains while the concept of streamlining hospital procedures looks good on paper, it can backfire by not producing the intended results.

“The number of people who can step into other roles may actually be fairly limited. So when you do that, especially since many of the elective patients do not require inpatient beds, you’re not going to get this sudden supply of nurses and support personnel to help inside the hospital. What you’re doing is kind of denying care to those on the outside who could benefit, even if it’s not an emergency or urgent procedure,” he explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

“Putting a pause on elective procedures, for example colonoscopy and other diagnostic or preventative measures, and creating a backlog and delay, as well as the discomfort to the individuals who are now waiting and worried, that has some real consequence to the individual and the communities as well,” Dr. Fritz further says.

Albany Med, Glens Falls Hospital, and Saratoga Hospital remain on the state’s list to potentially receive cutbacks based on current capacity, while Samaritan Hospital comes off the list Friday by increasing available beds to 17 percent capacity.

“We are doing what we are calling ‘load balancing’, in other words to prevent any one hospital from becoming overwhelmed if they start reaching a capacity, we all do what we can to start accepting patients from that facility and give them breathing room,” says Dr. Hanks of the ongoing partnership between Capital Region hospitals.

Added to stress of the unknown, confirmed omicron variant cases in New York’s metropolitan areas.

“There’s still a lot that’s unknown; however, due to the mutations of the spike proteins, scientists are suspecting that previous infection with COVID is not a good protector against this particular strain, which raises concern that it could be indeed an ‘escape strain’, meaning if a variant of high consequence emerged where our existing vaccines are really ineffective and maybe our treatments are ineffective,” explains Dr. Hanks.

“The good news, if there is any, is that in the early stages it appears some of the disease caused by the omicron variant is lesser, more mild, but there’s a lot more study to do to be sure,” adds Dr. Fritz.

Capital District leaders to urge their communities to get vaccinated and help lighten their load.

“Even if you’re of the opinion, well maybe it doesn’t work for omicron, the clear and present danger remains delta which remains transmitting at a very high level here in the Capital Region,” says Dr. Hanks.

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