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Hospital officials changing layouts to make space for surge of coronavirus patients

Catholic Health Services has trailers and tents ready

Catholic Health Services has trailers and tents ready to serve patients if needed at its hospitals, said Dr. Patrick M. O'Shaughnessy, executive vice president and chief clinical officer of the Rockville Centre-based health system. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Regional health executives on Monday said they're changing hospital layouts to make more space available in the event of a surge in coronavirus patients.

They're also prepared to pitch tents outside emergency departments, discharging patients as quickly as possible and trying to buy more ventilators.

"Our feeling is we've been gearing up for this for seven or eight weeks now," said Terry Lynam, a spokesman at New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health, the largest private employer in the state. "It's our belief that we are well-prepared, but we understand if there is a big surge, you never know."

Earlier Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo urged the federal government to send in the Army Corps of Engineers to help turn military bases or college dorms into temporary medical centers because hospitals may become overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.

"Our primary goal right now is to slow the spread of this virus so that the wave of new infections doesn't crash our health care system," Cuomo said.

Lynam said he understood why Cuomo was sounding the alarm, because "you have to plan for the worst-case scenario."

"We have an adequate supply of ventilators, but we are ordering more in case they come in handy," Lynam said. "We also have hundreds of ICU units, and we can set aside other areas of our hospitals and establish ICUs there, too."

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Lynam added that Northwell has the capability to open tents outside emergency departments if necessary.

Northwell Health operates 11 hospitals on Long Island, including North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Huntington Hospital, Southside Hospital in Bay Shore and Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.

Catholic Health Services also has trailers and tents ready to serve patients if needed at its hospitals, said Dr. Patrick M. O’Shaughnessy, executive vice president and chief clinical officer of the Rockville Centre-based health system.

Catholic Health has kept beds empty at its facilities in case of a surge, he added.

Catholic Health said elective surgeries at its hospitals will be canceled from March 23 to April 24. Northwell made the same move over the weekend.

NYU Winthrop's hospital operations chief said the facility has 93 isolation rooms and the capacity to convert many more.

“With COVID-19 testing now becoming more readily available, including at urgent care facilities, we anticipate less ER visits for testing and expect to be able to fully meet the demands for isolation rooms," said Dr. Joseph Greco, senior vice president and chief of hospital operations at NYU Winthrop in Mineola. "The situation can change quickly, but we have backup plans for our backup plans, so we’re well-prepared. While we’re currently caring for COVID-19 patients, it’s important to note that many patients have recovered and were discharged to return home.”

Greco added that NYU Winthrop had "an ample supply of ventilators."

Oceanside-based Mount Sinai South Nassau has relocated infusion patients and are keeping that area available for an influx of coronavirus patients, hospital executives said.

"We are preparing for the worst-case scenario, and are eliminating and limiting nonessential services as much as possible," said Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chair of the department of medicine and the chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau, who added the hospital is doing all it can to be ready for all "possibilities."

Glatt said every regional hospital would be overwhelmed if the virus spread like it did in areas such as Italy. He added "that's why we can't stress enough the importance of taking social distancing very, very seriously. That is crucial in order to avoid an overwhelmed system."

Stony Brook University Hospital said it has been implementing surge capacity protocols for the last two weeks, and is focusing on expanding bed and ventilator capacity. 

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