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ALBANY — A state-imposed freeze on "non-essential" elective procedures at hospitals that have become filled with patients amid a surge in COVID-19 cases will create financial burdens for the facilities, the head of a regional health care association said Tuesday.

Gary Fitzgerald, president of the Iroquois Healthcare Alliance, said hospital executives affiliated with the group believe they are better situated than state bureaucrats to determine if the facilities should cut back on performing the procedures.

FINANCIAL PROBLEMS

"Shutting down elective procedures is just going to make the financial problems they are experiencing worse," Fitzgerald said.

He added: "The numbers show for the last three quarters of this year that they have been experiencing negative margins all over upstate New York."

Elective procedures have generally been revenue generators for hospitals.

While the hospitals targeted for the pause by the state will experience financial repercussions, Fitzgerald said the latest approach is preferable to the much broader limits on elective procedures imposed last year by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

32 HOSPITALS

In many cases, the upstate regions that had to stop doing the procedures were not dealing with surges in COVID-19 admissions, he pointed out.

The new order takes effect Thursday. It is being aimed at 32 hospitals where the available beds have dwindled to below 10% of capacity.

The facilities include: Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Niagara County; Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Clinton County; Alice Hyde Medical Center in Franklin County; Elizabethtown Community Hospital in Essex County; and A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital in Otsego County.

The state Department of Health has mapped plans to begin reviewing admissions data from all hospitals Dec. 16. The facilities with very low availability of beds will be notified the following day of any order to include them in the elective restrictions.

NOT ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’

In a letter to hospitals across the state, Stephanie Shulman, director of the state Division of Hospitals and Diagnostic & Treatment Center, said: "DOH (Department of Health) retains the discretion to add, remove, or change restrictions or thresholds for regions or facilities, accounting for transmission rates, hospitalization rates, and other public health considerations upon reasonable notice as determined by DOH."

As virus transmission rates fluctuate, with variation from region to region, Gov. Kathy Hochul signaled this week she will pursue a different strategy than the blanket approach Cuomo took.

"We've learned a lot from that experience to not just have a one-size-fits-all approach, make it more targeted to the hospitals that really are in trouble, or the hospital systems in a region," she stated.

DOING DIFFERENT THINGS

Fitzgerald said while state bureaucrats believe they are freeing up healthcare workers to deal with COVID patients and other patients needing intensive care by canceling elective procedures, that is not the case for many of those working at hospitals.

"We have pointed out (to state officials) that the staff that do elective procedures are not necessarily staff that can go into an O.R. (operating room) or an E.R. (emergency room) or even a hospital floor," Fitzgerald said

"They are doing different things, and so it takes time to train them," he said. "This is just not going to have a huge positive impact on those hospitals."

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