OLEAN — Olean General Hospital officials said Tuesday the hospital has sufficient personal protective equipment and is preparing for a surge in admissions as they continue to watch for coronavirus infection.
No confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been found in Cattaraugus County or McKean County, Pa. Cattaraugus County is the only Western New York county without a confirmed case. Officials note that could be because neither county has enough kits for large-scale testing.
Jeff Zewe, Upper Allegheny Health System president and CEO, said Olean General has 150 beds and is preparing 75 more to keep with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s directive to hospitals to ramp up capacity by 50%.
Zewe spoke during a telephone conference with area reporters on Tuesday.
With current occupancy hovering around 50%, hospital officials are confident they can handle the coming surge.
At the Bradford Regional Medical Center, where there are 30 beds, staff is preparing an additional 40 beds on the vacant fourth floor wing of the hospital. Those 70 beds will be more than twice as many as currently available.
The 22 ventilators the hospitals have will grow in number to 30 after today, said Dr. William Mills, Upper Allegany vice president for quality and professional affairs.
Upper Allegheny is fine with supplies including personal protective equipment like masks, gowns and gloves.
“A lot of community members have reached out to make masks. We have told them to proceed,” Zewe said. “If there is a crisis we will utilize them. Right now our supplies are in very good shape.”
Local 3-D printers were being used to print face shields.
Zewe praised the hospitals’ front-line staff, who he said have done “an incredible job” as the COVID-19 crisis deepens in hot zones like New York City.
“Last week it felt like were driving 100 mph in a 30 mph zone,” Zewe said in describing fast-changing events in the coronavirus crisis. He said things have improved considerably, thanks to collaboration with the Cattaraugus County Health Department and Office of Emergency Services.
The local coronavirus fight — the closing of many businesses, social distancing and washing hands — is having an impact on slowing the spread of COVID-19. Fewer cars is a big indication that people are staying home.
“It’s a community effort, not just the hospital,” Zewe said. “The isolation is paying dividends.”
The hospitals have a surge plan if the area finds itself with a wave of infections.
“We are still in a crisis, obviously,” Mills told reporters. “We eliminated visitors. The public has been pretty good about that. We are now screening everyone who walks through the door to make sure they don’t have a fever.”
Telehealth doctor visits are becoming commonplace and the hospital is moving toward a “secure Skype” operation.
Maintenance staffs are preparing more negative pressure rooms to use in quarantining coronavirus patients to keep viruses from escaping the room.
“We’re a little more under control (this week) in terms of preparedness,” Mills said. “No one thinks this virus is done yet.”
Mills said the challenges of rural hospitals and healthcare also come with some benefits. “We’re not stacked on top of each other and we can have some distance from each other.” He and others are hoping it will help reduce the virus’s severity and duration.
Mills said COVID-19 tests “remain in short supply. The last numbers he said he had for Cattaraugus County was of 75 tested, 64 were negative and 11 were pending.
“We’re not seeing sick patients come into the emergency room,” Mills said, indicating that is a good sign. “If people were a little sicker, they would come to the hospital.”
Mills said despite being surrounded by counties with residents with positive COVID-19 test results, health officials “haven’t seen a community spread” of the virus here yet.
“We know something will come up,” he said.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)