ALBANY — Anticipating a surge in COVID-19 cases, Columbia Memorial Health and other area hospitals outlined their plans to increase hospital bed capacity in the coming months.
Hospital officials also addressed the safety of health care workers and community testing at a press conference at Albany Medical Center Tuesday afternoon.
Albany Medical Center has tested 1,642 people for COVID-19 so far, with 79 people testing positive for COVID-19. Of the 79 positive cases, 11 have required hospitalization at Albany Medical Center.
CMH has not had any patients hospitalized with COVID-19, said CMH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Clifford Belden.
The majority of hospitalized patients have been from vulnerable populations, including those with pre-existing conditions, officials said.
A team of fifteen CMH administrators and health care providers are finalizing a surge plan that will be sent to state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker Tuesday evening, Belden said.
The hospital has rented extra beds to be placed in patient care rooms and available operating waiting rooms, he said. “We have a surge plan that very rapidly can get to over 50% as early as next week, 65% is our first phase surge plan.”
With help from the state, CMH “can go well beyond that as well,” he noted.
Belden also addressed the hospital’s efforts to increase ICU beds, which come equipped with the ventilators that are critical in treating COVID-19 patients.
“We currently we have 6 to 7 ICU beds staffed, and we will be able to likely more than double that with our surge plan,” he said.
Belden is optimistic the hospital will be able to reach Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal of doubling hospital capacity.
“CMH is well positioned because we have a large outpatient footprint and a smaller in-patient footprint. We have space in the building and we are able to add beds to existing spaces,” he said.
Health care workers throughout the region have been exposed to COVID-19 and some have tested positive for the disease, including those at CMH, but officials did not provide numbers of how many health care workers have been affected.
“Just like every employer we have had employees that have tested positive or been quarantined because of exposure, but it hasn’t affected us operationally,” Belden said.
“All of us have had positives or exposures of workers,” said St. Peter’s Health Partners Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Steven Hanks, who noted that the hospitals have a protocol for closely monitoring quarantined workers and putting them back to work after the end of their quarantine period.
“Obviously if they are symptomatic it’s a different track for getting them back to work,” he said.
All COVID-19 testing is now reserved for symptomatic health care workers and first responders, officials said.
The hospitals are not withholding tests from the public, officials said. Testing is not necessary unless a person is ill enough to require hospitalization.
“Testing itself does not impact the patient whose symptoms are mild enough to be managed at home,” said Dr. David Liebers, Ellis Hospital vice president and infectious disease specialist.
The policy of reserving tests for health care providers and in-patients will continue, even if more testing supplies are made available, officials said.
“Even if we had the tests, our philosophy would be the same,” said Dr. Dennis McKenna, incoming president and CEO of Albany Medical Center.
Belden said that everyone at CMH is working around the clock to prepare for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases and he urged Columbia and Greene County residents to follow all regulations to prevent the virus’s spread.
“We are doing our part as your health care provider. It is important that our community do their part,“ he said.