Photo: Peter Blasl

Hospitals in the region have mobilized emergency operation centers and resources to prepare for the anticipated influx of coronavirus patients in need of treatment — but will they be able to meet the demand in the weeks ahead when the pandemic reaches its peak in New York?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been sounding the alarm about the hospital capacity issue at every opportunity. Modeling done by the state indicates that the number of infections in New York won’t even reach its peak until about six weeks from now. And hospitals and health care facilities are already under strain.

Cuomo said New York expects to need 110,000 “regular” hospital beds and 25,000 to 35,000 ICU beds — with ventilators — at the apex of infections here. The state currently has 53,000 hospital beds and 3,000 ICU beds — which are already at least 80% filled.

The virus is hospitalizing about 15% of people who are infected worldwide, with many of those patients requiring ventilators that are only available in ICU beds. In New York State, the hospitalization rate has been growing along with the number of confirmed cases, from 14% of confirmed cases hospitalized last week to 23% yesterday.

It’s a looming crisis that’s beyond the state’s capacity to address and requires immediate federal intervention, Cuomo said.

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The President is sending a 1,000-bed Naval hospital ship to New York Harbor next month, Cuomo announced yesterday. He said the state needs the federal government to deploy military resources to build hospitals across New York.

“I need the Army Corps of Engineers. They were here last night and I met with them,” Cuomo said during a television interview on MSNBC this morning.

The state, meanwhile, is doing everything it can to expand hospital capacity “from within,” the governor said — even setting aside minimum per-bed space requirements and the like set by the state health department.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said this morning that the county is working with the state to identify sites that can be converted to hospital facilities as well as sites where infected people can be isolated.

“Our capacity is just not there to meet that surge,” Bellone said during an interview on Fox5 New York this morning.

“We’re looking at anything that could make sense — college campuses that are closed, gymnasiums, etc. that have been closed and are not in use,” Bellone said.

Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead has already taken steps to add capacity. In addition to an emergency room expansion it built in just a few days beginning this weekend, PBMC has entered into a lease with the Diocese of Rockville Centre to use the McGann-Mercy campus for “overflow,” PBMC president and CEO Andrew Mitchell told RiverheadLOCAL yesterday.

The neighboring Catholic school, shuttered by the diocese in June 2018, will be used as the need arises, for patient isolation and treatment and possibly to shelter hospital staff, Mitchell said. The plans are still under development, he said.

PBMC has 140 beds, according to State Health Department data. Those include 116 medical/surgical beds, 12 intensive care beds, eight maternity beds and four beds allocated for prisoners. (Prisoners from the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverside are brought to PBMC when they require treatment.)

PBMC has another 12 ICU beds thanks to its recent opening of the Kanas Heart Center in the Corey Critical Care Pavilion. Mitchell said there is space built for four more ICU beds in the new center, but they are not on the hospital’s certificate of need for the new facility — the document that essentially licenses a hospital’s facilities and services.

When the Kanas heart center’s recovery room and the hospital’s surgical recovery room, the number gets closer to 50 available slots in a crisis, Mitchell said.

Even so, that capacity is not nearly enough to handle the COVID-19 cases expected to require treatment in the Riverhead hospital’s catchment area, at the projected rate of infection and current hospitalization rates.

Stony Brook/Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport has only 15 medical/surgical beds and just two ICU beds. In November, the state approved the transfer of three coronary care beds, one ICU bed and 16 medical/surgical beds from ELIH to University Hospital in Stony Brook, as part of a reorganization plan submitted by the Stony Brook system.

ELIH also has 20 chemical dependence rehabilitation beds, 10 chemical dependence detoxification beds and 23 psychiatric beds, for a total of 70 beds, according to state health department data.

Stony Brook/Southampton has 124 beds, including 88 medical/surgical beds, 19 maternity beds, eight ICU beds, six coronary care beds and three pediatric beds.

“We have greatly increased our capacity for overflow bed needs and are actively working to significantly expand ICU and stepdown bed capacity,” Stony Brook Medicine said in a statement.

The 624-bed Stony Brook University Hospital, has created three units providing 45 beds in the last three weeks for persons under investigation, with another 16-bed unit which will be completed shortly, the hospital said in a statement.

Altogether, Suffolk County has about 2,300 hospital beds of which 391 were available as of 9 a.m. yesterday, Suffolk County Commissioner of Health Gregson Pigott said during a telephone press briefing yesterday afternoon. There are also 242 ICU beds in Suffolk, Pigott said. Of those, just 68 were available county-wide Pigott said.

According to State Health Department data published online, there are a total of 2,356 hospital beds in Suffolk County. But that number includes many different types of beds — including, for instance, 162 ICU beds, 60 coronary care beds and 10 traumatic brain injury beds, according to the NYS DOH website. Medical/surgical beds in Suffolk were 1,497.

In an effort to maintain capacity to handle the anticipated surge, Northwell Health has canceled all in-hospital elective surgeries and procedures through at least April 15, the health system announced Sunday. Emergency surgeries are not affected. Surgeries and procedures in the system’s outpatient facilities will continue if deemed clinically necessary, according to a Northwell press release.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.