PLATTSBURGH — Dire revenue losses as a result of COVID-19 numbered among the concerns discussed by hospital and community health center leaders during a working group conference call hosted by North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) Monday afternoon.
But they also commented on the strong spirit and morale of health care workers and support from their respective communities.
"It's been a real privilege, despite the fact that we're in a crisis and unprecedented circumstances, to see the professionalism and resiliency of hospitals and their entire staff," Stefanik said.
The hospital representatives also noted strains on space due to required COVID-19 surge preparations, limited personal protective equipment — naming specifically gowns — and the necessity to lay off or furlough employees.
They were also concerned about decreases overall in emergency department volume, which could mean people who need care are avoiding seeking it out for fear of becoming infected with the coronavirus.
Some facilities were either waiting to hear from the state on whether to begin elective surgeries or had already started offering them again.
Stefanik said, to date, more than $33 million in federal funding had gone to hospitals in New York's 21st Congressional District.
She is working with national health officials and the Hospital Association of New York State to ensure the next round of funding is based on current need, not past numbers.
AREAS OF CONCERN
Adirondack Health President and CEO Sylvia Getman said there are three main areas of concern for Adirondack Health: prisons such as FCI Ray Brook; its long-term care facility, Mercy Living Center; and the Sunmount facility in Tupper Lake.
She said her organization is well-prepared to handle continued testing of inmates at the federal prison.
"But it is an area of concern because of the density of that population as well as the correction officers that work there."
As of Monday, Adirondack Health was able to test all of its residents at Mercy Living Center in Tupper Lake and was starting to test staff as well, Getman said.
"We are working through kind of the mechanics of how do we test with the understanding that if some of the testing comes back positive or uncertain, then we are also impacting our ability to staff those facilities," she said.
"We know that things that are negative are density and a frail and susceptible population and we have both of those things here in the North Country."
Adirondack Health works with Adirondack ROOST and the local chambers to share information on how activities and events might be impacted by COVID-19, Getman said.
The organization is resuming elective surgeries, and opened up a number of outpatient specialty clinics Monday.
Getman said the Trudeau Institute has been a blessing for Adirondack Health.
"They’ve been able to reprocess some of our PPE, our N-95 and surgical masks," she said.
"Ninety-five percent of our N-95 masks are now able to be reprocessed through that organization which has been literally a life-saver because it allows us to keep our staff safe."
University of Vermont Health Network, Elizabethtown Community Hospital President John Remillard said his facility was grateful for the aid that it has received.
"We understand the $10 billion rural distribution will take place this week and we look forward to that."
Remillard has heard from members of the business community who would like to test all their employees before having them come back to work.
"We would like to do that. We’ve opened up some of the testing that we’re able to do, but we don’t have all the supplies that we would need to do the widespread testing for businesses and their employees."
He told Stefanik any assistance she could provide on that front would be a big help.
As a critical access hospital, ECH does not have a regular ICU or operating room, Remillard said.
But the facility has fit in as a place where COVID-19 patients stepping down from more intense care can stay for inpatient rehab.
Hudson Headwaters Health Network CEO Dr. D. Tucker Slingerland said his organization has tested about 1,600 patients at its 19 health centers, and about 12 percent have come back positive.
About 120 of those are nursing home residents, with another 75 being nursing home workers or corrections officers.
“I’m worried that there’s more of this in our community than we might really appreciate," Slingerland said.
"So I definitely think that the path forward is really around doing a lot more testing."
Beginning Tuesday, Hudson Headwaters will attempt to test basically anyone who wants to be tested by appointment, he continued.
"We’ll do that as long as our supplies last, but we really could use more testing supplies to be sure."
Slingerland also discussed telehealth, which he estimated makes up at least 25 percent of Hudson Headwaters' current business.
He noted that there have been adjustments to the rates for compensating for such appointments, and that the organization is hopeful those stay in place post-COVID-19.
But it is hard to do telehealth without good cell service or broadband coverage, Slingerland noted.
State elected officials also listened in on the call.
State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury), who served on the Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force, said telemedicine is the wave of the future and that internet has to be like electricity, subsidized and affordable.
"We cannot go another year without improved access to internet in the area. It will help grow our year-round population, which is desperately needed."
Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) said he is convinced testing is going to be key for reopening, and agreed with Little about the necessity of internet and cell coverage.
Stefanik urged the presidents and CEOs to not hesitate to follow up with her office.
"We're here to support you and these conversations will continue informally as we look forward in the coming weeks."
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