WATERTOWN — Officials for north country hospitals say they need more information in the wake of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order allowing the state to redistribute ventilators to areas where there are more cases of COVID-19.
Shortly after the governor declared that the state could take ventilators and personal protective equipment from upstate hospitals and redirect them where there’s a greater need, he held a conference call with nearly all of the CEOs at hospitals across the state.
It is Samaritan Medical Center’s understanding that the state could take 10 percent of their overall ventilators or 20 percent of the ventilators that aren’t in use. Either way, Samaritan would likely have to give up three of the 33 ventilators the hospital has, said Leslie M. Distefano, a spokesperson for the medical center.
Right now, losing three ventilators would be something they could absorb and continue business as usual, as there are at least that many not in use. But with COVID-19 comes uncertainty.
“With this pandemic, that could change,” she said. “Hence why we have the supply we have.”
There are many unanswered questions associated with the executive order, officials said. Ms. Distefano was unaware of any timeline of when these ventilators might be required by the state. And she was unaware of how the state would apply its method of taking ventilators from hospitals with far fewer such pieces of equipment. The governor’s office said the ventilators would be loaned to the state, suggesting hospitals like Samaritan would be reimbursed or the equipment would be returned, but, again, for the medical center, it’s hard to say.
“We’re still looking and waiting for a lot of details about how this will work,” Ms. Distefano said. “For us, it’s about learning those details and then looking at Samaritan as the anchor hospital in the north country, our patients and really considering the military and civilian population we serve and how we can move forward.”
In the end, for Samaritan, it will be about advocating for what’s best for the area.
“We are a very unique area,” she said. “But we also know that the resources are very strained across the state. We’re all feeling that. As with anything, you just have to have more information before you can formulate a response.”
Carthage Area Hospital and Lewis County General Hospital could not be reached for comment about their ventilators. Alexandria Bay’s River Hospital said it’s too early to comment on the developing situation.
John Seller is the supervising nurse at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center and the most senior employee at the hospital on weekends. To his knowledge, the medical center has not been asked to provide any of its ventilators to the state.
But he did note that with COVID-19, some who test positive are presenting mild symptoms, or some have a severe illness. As it progresses, the lungs become non-compliant, which is when a ventilator is required.
He was not sure how many ventilators the medical center had on Saturday, but he did agree with Ms. Distefano’s sentiment of a world that’s evolving faster minute by minute because of the pandemic.
“Our senior management has been working for weeks on developing a plan,” Mr. Seller said. “This is just not something we’ve seen in our lifetime, or probably in our parents’ lifetime. So I know our senior management, they meet every day and there’s a very good plan in place, but it’s a dynamic process. It’s not static. It will depend on the cases we do get.”
As far as the apex of the case-count, he’s not sure the country is there yet.
This is just my personal opinion, I don’t think we have reached it yet either,” he said. “And I think most people in healthcare would say the same thing.”