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URMC, Rochester Regional take steps to expand hospital capacity

Strong Memorial Hospital generic.jpg
(WHAM photo)

(WHAM) - As Monroe County continues to see thousands of COVID-19 cases each week, hospital administrators are taking more measures to ensure health care staff can meet the rising number of people who are being hospitalized due to the virus.

One of the more significant steps involved temporarily stopping all elective surgeries at UR Medicine's Sawgrass Medical Center as of Wednesday. Hospital system administrators hope to reschedule those delayed cases by the end of the month. They have been reevaluating day to day.

More than 40 percent of all deaths from COVID-19 in Monroe County alone have come in the last five weeks, according to data released by the Monroe County Department of Public Health. Nearly 2,700 people in Monroe County since December 31, 2020.

As of Monday morning, there are 892 patients with the virus hospitalized across the Finger Lakes region. Of those, 139 are in the ICU. The percentage of hospital beds available in those hospitals is 31 percent, while 27 percent of ICU beds remain open. Those percentages have dwindled as the number of cases continue to rise - approximately three quarters of which can be attributed to small, indoor gatherings at people's homes.

The 7-day positivity rate for COVID-19 cases is now over 10 percent.

Dr. Michael Apostolakos, Chief Medical Officer for University of Rochester Medical Center, said in a Monday morning news briefing that URMC hospitals currently have 479 COVID patients - two-thirds of which are at Strong Memorial Hospital. Of those patients, 74 are in the ICU and 51 of those patients are on ventilators.

One significant change for hospital systems has been New York State Department of Health approving a plan to allow Hurlbut Care Communities in Conesus and Shore Winds to shift COVID-positive patients from hospitals to a transition facility before being discharged to their long-term care facilities. The patients being moved are people who no longer require hospital treatment for COVID-19, but have enough of the virus in their system that they cannot test negative. A negative COVID test is required for a patient to be released back to their long-term care facility.

Empire Manor at Hill Haven will also be used by Rochester Regional Health.

Apostolakos said they are hoping to move 10-12 patients each week from their hospitals to these transition facilities. Thirty-five patients were taken to Empire Manor over the weekend.

Dr. Robert Mayo, Chief Medical Officer at Rochester Regional Health, said moving nursing home patients out will help to keep levels below that 85 percent threshold that would trigger a 'Red Zone' closure by the state.

Based on that step being taken along with the elective surgery delays, Apostolakos agreed.

"We’re done with the holiday season. We’re still going to see a spike from the holiday season over the next couple of weeks," Apostolakos said. "But we believe if we can go back to what we did back in March and really mask, stay socially distanced and only interact with our immediate households, that we can flatten the curve, we can give our healthcare workers a break, that we can then go back to a way of living after we get the vaccines that we're all accustomed to."

For Rochester Regional Health patients, non-essential surgeries are being shifted to ambulatory surgery centers, which are able to manage the volume of cases coming in. Staff at those ambulatory centers are not currently being redeployed to help with COVID patients.

For patients who are still experiencing significant health issues and are wondering if they should go to the hospital, both Apostolakos and Mayo urge them to get treated.

"I want to urge the community not to be afraid to come to the hospital,” Apostolakos said. “We can take care of you safely."

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