ALBANY — Albany Medical Center could run out of testing kits for COVID-19 in the next few days, health officials said Wednesday.
Representatives from the hospital said they have a 2-to-3-day supply of testing kits remaining, in a media briefing Friday afternoon at Albany Medical Center.
“Our current supply is meeting our current need,” Columbia Memorial Health spokesman William Van Slyke said Wednesday afternoon. “However, any increase in demand could become problematic if additional supplies are not made available.”
Officials discussed testing priorities in the event that no more kits become available in the next few days.
“If we get to the point where there is an absolute shortage of the testing kits, we are going to take direction from the county. We are going to prioritize those kits for the people who are in-patients and the most at-risk populations,” said Dr. Dennis McKenna, incoming president and CEO of Albany Medical Center.
The low supply of testing kits is being caused by problems in the supply chain, officials said.
“We are constrained, if anything, by our outside resources, not by our internal resources,” said Dr. Fred Venditti, executive vice president for System Care Delivery and hospital general director.
The hospital is assessing its testing supplies daily, he said. “If we can’t do walk-up testing, we will notify the public within 24 hours.”
In addition to in-patients and at-risk populations, kits will also be directed toward hospital staff in the event of a shortage. “It is inevitable that a health care provider will get sick,” Director of Epidemiology Rebecca O’Donnell said.
“If you are working in the hospital, we need to know whether that person has been exposed to the virus or not. There is no question that we have to use the testing kits to prioritize health care workers,” McKenna said.
The hospital has administered 1,402 tests for COVID-19 at its temporary testing facility — a large tent set up in the parking lot. Hospital staff members are performing tests on both scheduled and walk-in patients.
All COVID-19 testing kits used at Capital Region hospitals are analyzed at the Wadsworth Center, a public health laboratory administered by the state Department of Health in Albany. Health officials said test results become available within 24 hours.
Albany Medical Center began performing its own tests internally on Tuesday, Venditti said, but the hospital can only perform 300 total tests with the supplies it has available.
As testing kits become scarce, hospitals may begin to share testing regionally. “We will continue to do that testing as we are directed to do so,” Venditti said. “We’ll work with the local hospitals to try to do that in a coordinated manner.”
Albany Medical Center does not keep track of identifying information about the patients it tests for COVID-19, McKenna said. “We are not tracking the origin of the patients. Wadsworth is able to track the county of origin of the tests.”
The hospital has not changed its privacy policies in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, officials said.
There have been no changes to the HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] rules, McKenna said. “We have to know who among our workforce has been exposed. Our compliance officer has assured us that everything we are doing is within the HIPAA rules,” he said.
HIPAA laws were introduced in 1996 to protect patient privacy and restrict the sharing of health information. The laws permit hospitals to disclose protected health information if a person poses a serious threat to public health. McKenna did not comment on how HIPAA laws might affect disclosure of information regarding COVID-19.
Ellis Hospital in Schenectady has suspended testing due to a shortage of kits, Ellis officials said Wednesday.
Albany Medical Center is coordinating the response to COVID-19 with area hospitals, including Columbia Memorial Health, St. Peter’s Health Partners, Ellis Medicine, Saratoga Hospital, Glens Falls Hospital and St. Mary’s Healthcare Amsterdam.
Officials from each hospital are in contact daily via conference call.
Columbia Memorial Health is part of the Albany Medical Center network.