Upstate New York hospitals are overwhelmed as COVID-19 cases surge

Washington Published: Dec 04, 2021, 11:44 PM(IST)

Coronavirus in New York Photograph:( Reuters )

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With Omicron now detected in New York City and on Long Island and expected to spread, and few hospital beds upstate available for patients if COVID-19 hospitalisations spike even higher

A surge in COVID-19 cases and a shortage of health care workers is filling hospitals and nursing homes past their capacity in upstate New York, creating a growing crisis in the health care system even before the omicron variant is known to have spread through the area, according to hospital executives from Buffalo to Albany.

COVID-19 hospitalisations in the region have more than tripled since August when the Delta wave began to sweep through the state, Gov. Kathy Hochul said this week. At the same time, tens of thousands of health care workers have left their health care jobs, for reasons ranging from pandemic burnout to a refusal to get vaccinated despite the state’s strict mandate for healthcare workers and some systems have posted hundreds of available job openings.

The result has been a decrease in upstate hospital capacity of about 10%. And a perfect storm of high patient volumes, reduced staff and an inability to discharge patients to nursing homes — which are themselves full — has begun to overwhelm some facilities, particularly in western New York, the Finger Lakes region and a swath of the state north of Albany, hospital executives said.

With Omicron now detected in New York City and on Long Island and expected to spread, and few hospital beds upstate available for patients if COVID-19 hospitalisations spike even higher, Hochul has declared a state of emergency.

On Wednesday, she announced that 120 National Guard troops would be deployed to back up nursing home staffs around the state. The governor’s office has so far announced nine facilities — nursing homes in Rochester, Buffalo, on Long Island and elsewhere — where soldiers will work. More locations will be announced soon.

The governor also said that all hospitals at more than 90% capacity may be ordered to stop elective surgeries to deal with the surge. There were 56 hospitals in that category Friday, including 10 in New York City, some of which had already taken that step.

New York City remains the only jurisdiction in the state that requires people to have received at least one vaccine dose to visit indoor bars and restaurants.

Hochul has so far resisted any new statewide restrictions, saying it is up to local officials to set them.

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