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Doctor: Expect wave of new coronavirus patients on LI in next few weeks

John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson.

John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson. Credit: Heather Walsh

A top doctor at a Suffolk County hospital warned Friday that the largest crush of local coronavirus patients has yet to arrive, placing a finer point on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s concern over Long Island as a growing hotspot.

“We’re not at the peak yet,” said Dr. Adam Wos, emergency department medical director at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson. “We’re following the wave that started in the city and is in Queens, and we’re probably one or two weeks behind.”

Mather, a 248-bed community hospital that is part of the Northwell Health network, is largely full after accepting 44 COVID-19 patients from Queens and western Nassau County this week, officials said. Like most facilities in the region, it has been working to create areas that can handle critical coronavirus care, including ventilated patients.

“They’re using every available space to put extra beds and scrambling to find providers and nurses to care for all these extra people,” Wos said in an interview, noting that the hospital has not discussed prematurely discharging patients based solely on bed space. “I haven’t heard of that process being accelerated with any more haste than usual.”

With ventilators a critical need across Long Island, Mather is following the lead of other Northwell facilities and converting devices used to assist breathing by patients under anesthesia or who suffer conditions such as chronic lung disease and severe sleep apnea.

But Wos said the hospital was not in immediate danger of running short on ventilators even as patients requiring breathing assistance grows by the day.

“It’s tenuous,” he said. “But at the very current moment we’re doing OK.”

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The influx of COVID-19 patients has prompted the hospital to more closely manage the workload of its critical care staff. Wos said nurses and nurses’ aides in so-called “hot zones” of infected patients are switching to other areas every 90 minutes, so they don’t have to consistently wear the personal protective equipment that can be heavily restrictive and hasten fatigue.

Northwell officials have said that its hospitals have a sufficient amount of the necessary equipment, including masks, gowns and face guards.

In the interview Friday, Wos said he believed that limiting hospital visitors and requiring the wearing of additional protective equipment – starting on March 9 – played a role in safeguarding Mather physicians, physicians' assistants, nurses and nurses' aides. None has contracted coronavirus.

Hospital supervisors lead meetings three times a day to offer staff an emotional outlet, Wos said. He also noted community support that has included cards and letters and donations of hot meals by restaurants.

As the expected peak approaches, Wos said he believed Mather was in a relatively good place.

“A lot of other hospitals can’t say the same at this point because they’re getting inundated,” he said. “We’re doing our part, accepting patients from other hospitals. We’re all trying to do the best we can.”

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