We can do our part as local hospitals prepare for rise in COVID-19 cases

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There are many advantages our region touts when it markets itself to people and businesses considering moving to the Mohawk Valley and Central New York.

We talk about safe communities, a vibrant arts and cultural scene, world class higher education opportunities, a highly dedicated work force, abundant natural resources which also provide a spectacular array of outdoor recreational pursuits.

We also talk — at length — about quality and accessible health care. While many of us have perhaps taken our area hospitals and medical professionals for granted, clearly those days are now past.

Over the past several days as hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have grown, area hospitals have announced new measures to deal with the increase in patients and the strains this presents on its staff and facility.

On Wednesday, Oneida County reported 264 new cases of COVID-19 and two deaths related to the disease as well as 119 county residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the county, including 20 at Rome Memorial, 85 at the Mohawk Valley Health System in Utica and New Hartford, and 14 outside the county. The total is an all-time high, County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. said. The figures don’t include patient numbers at other area healthcare facilities including Oneida Health, Community Memorial Hospital, Lewis County General or Bassett Healthcare, who are also experiencing an increase in COVID-19 positive cases. Included in the Oneida County cases are 15 patients who were in intensive care units across the county, including one at Rome Memorial, 11 in the Mohawk Valley Health system and three in other counties.

County officials did not have precise availability rates of ICU and regular beds at the hospitals but said each reports daily to the state Health Department. Regionally, availability of ICU and general-ward beds among hospitals in the Mohawk Valley stood at 25% of capacity measured over the previous week, unchanged from the day before.

Rome Memorial on Wednesday announced it is encouraging retired healthcare professionals interested in helping to contact its human resources department, saying that all skill sets and specialties are needed, and renewal fees will be waived for lapsed state professional registrations.

The hospital established a separate COVID unit to isolate patients, and those critically ill receive care in the intensive-care unit, according to the hospital. Officials there added they currently had the bed capacity required as well as the ability to create additional space to meet state requirements to increase capacity.

Hospital leadership there is meeting multiple times a day to evaluate staffing needs to be sure there are enough people to care for patients, and frontline professionals are taking on extra shifts, while directors, managers and educators have returned to the bedside. Still, officials say, they need to prepare for the need for additional staff.

Those statements and experiences are similar to those at the Mohawk Valley Health System, with St. Elizabeth Hospital in Utica and St. Luke’s hospital in New Hartford. President and CEO Darlene Stromstad said MVHS is seeking to bolster staffing given a nationwide nursing shortage worsened by the pandemic, and is recruiting nurses, care techs, lab personnel and other workers. Both Rome Memorial and MVHS urged the public to heed COVID protective measures including, according to RMH:

Wear a mask anytime you leave the house.

Don’t congregate with people outside your household.

Stay at home if you are sick.

Limit trips outside the home. Take advantage of pickup and delivery.

A vaccine is coming, local, state and federal officials say, and New York State could receive 170,000 doses as soon as this coming weekend with the Mohawk Valley getting about 4,200. This is great news to be sure, but the limited quantity makes it incumbent upon residents to continue to exercise personal responsibility when it comes to the virus.

It is impractical to believe or suggest that area hospitals and healthcare professionals, as skilled and dedicated as they are, don’t require at least a little basic help from the rest of us.

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