Thirty-one New York hospitals are at risk of state Health Department officials forcing them to pause non-essential surgeries and procedures next week, state Health Department officials announced Friday.
The department will issue determinations to hospitals with 10% staffed bed capacity or fewer over a one-week average to limit non-essential elective procedures after Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order Nov. 26, or one week ago on Black Friday, as new COVID-19 infections reach transmission levels not seen since last April and the emergence of the coronavirus omicron variant recently discovered in South Africa.
The order will impact procedures scheduled to occur on or after this Wednesday, Dec. 9.
“No hospitals have currently limited procedures under the governor’s executive order,” DOH spokesperson Erin Silk said in a statement Friday. “While this order is effective today, determinations will be issued to facilities by Dec. 6 to apply to procedures scheduled to occur on or after Dec. 9.”
The order remains in effect through Jan. 15.
The potentially impacted health facilities are all in upstate regions and communities, including Albany Medical Center Hospital, Glens Falls Hospital and Saratoga Hospital in the Capital Region.
Columbia Memorial Health Hospital in Hudson was not on the Health Department’s at-risk list updated Friday afternoon.
Six hospitals each in Central New York, Western New York and the Finger Lakes and five each in the North Country and the Mohawk Valley may be forced to indefinitely cease nonessential surgeries and procedures.
“The Department of Health continues to work with hospital systems during implementation,” department officials said.
Statewide COVID hospitalizations have steadily increased over the last several months, netting 14 additional patients overnight Thursday to 3,107 New Yorkers in health facilities with virus complications.
Rising hospitalizations and daily fatalities are the consequence of spiking new coronavirus infections, which have been on the rise this fall. The state’s daily positivity rate increased to 4.87% Friday and is 4.85% over a seven-day average.
“We’re seeing exactly what we foresaw,” Gov. Hochul said during a COVID briefing in Manhattan on Thursday. “More hospitalizations puts a lot of stress on the hospital system, which is why our executive order ... says that hospitals that have less than 10% capacity have to cease elective surgeries until at least Jan. 15, unless they’re able to get those numbers higher or their capacity higher.
“The Department of Health is working to make sure that there’s some flexibility within that,” the governor added.
Other factors besides rising COVID rate are pressuring local hospitals, from employee shortages — which often means fewer beds are staffed — to difficulties discharging patients who need to be in long-term care facilities that don’t have room.
Hochul has worked with hospitals ahead of the order taking effect Friday, Health Department officials said.
“We are responding with constant communication with the hospitals, the local health departments and the elected officials to find out how we can backfill and get more health care workers,” Hochul said. “It’s not a shortage of beds, it’s a shortage of people to staff the beds.”
On Wednesday, the governor announced the deployment of 60 National Guard medical teams to various long-term care facilities across the state, where she said “the need for additional resources has been identified” to alleviate some of the burden at nursing homes.
Hochul has said she will deploy National Guard medical teams or health workers from other nations approved to work in the state to supplement staffing in New York hospitals if necessary.
The University of Vermont Health Network is ready to work in partnership with New York’s Health Department to address the reducing availability of staffed beds in the state.
“We look forward to working in partnership with NYSDOH to address the sustained increase in patient census that hospitals across our region have been facing for the last several months,” UVM Health Network President Michelle LeBeau said in a statement Friday. “Our surge and flex plan, submitted to NYSDOH in accordance with the governor’s recent executive order, has been fine-tuned over the past two years, as we continue to learn, grow and adapt to the challenges created by this public health emergency.
“Because of the hard work and dedication of our care teams, our leaders and employees across our organization, Alice Hyde [Medical Center] is well-positioned to overcome these recent challenges. Since the beginning of this pandemic, Alice Hyde has risen to the challenges forcing health care organizations to think differently about how to provide care in the communities we serve – and that includes being prepared for surges in patient census and COVID cases and patients locally and throughout our region.”
Hochul has stressed the need for her Executive Order No. 11, which declared a disaster emergency in the state and will reinstitute the state’s Surge and Flex health system created in spring 2020 to help hospitals more easily share resources as coronavirus infections are expected to increase through the upcoming holiday season and winter months.
“The executive order will also enable New York state to acquire more quickly any critical supplies to combat the pandemic,” Health Department officials said Friday.
The department considers hospitals as at-risk with regional COVID-19 hospital admission rates greater than four, based on a seven-day average per 100,000 residents, according to the order.
“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,” according to the guidance released Friday.
The order does not apply to specialty facilities such as cancer treatment centers, non-hospital-owned ambulatory surgery centers, office-based surgery practices or free-standing diagnostic and treatment centers, according to the executive mandate.
Health Department officials will review data weekly starting the week of Dec. 13. Data will be reviewed by the department Thursdays, and impacted facilities will be notified the next day, Friday, about limiting procedures to take affect the following Thursday, according to the guidance.
Republican officials have largely criticized the latest state order, saying it will lead to long-term health consequences and delay a sluggish economic recovery.
“Throughout the pandemic, New Yorkers had to limit their doctor visits and [elective] procedures with increased risk and harm related to major long term negative health consequences,” U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-1, the leading Republican nominee in next year’s gubernatorial contest, said in a statement Nov. 26 when Hochul signed the executive order.
“Going backwards now to limit necessary health services will result in massive negative harm that absolutely must be avoided,” he said. “New York has a major staffing shortage in the health field that Kathy Hochul greatly exacerbated with her COVID vaccine mandate, firing healthcare workers and turning heroes into zeroes. More of these ill-advised mandates from Albany is not the cure New Yorkers need.”