A surge in Covid cases and a shortage of health care workers is filling hospitals and nursing homes past their capacity in upstate New York, creating a growing crisis in the health care system even before the Omicron variant is known to have spread through the area, according to hospital executives from Buffalo to Albany.
Covid hospitalizations in the region have more than tripled since August when the Delta wave began to sweep through the state, Gov. Kathy Hochul said this week. At the same time, tens of thousands of health care workers have left their health care jobs, for reasons ranging from pandemic burnout to a refusal to get vaccinated in spite of the state’s strict mandate for health care workers, and some systems have posted hundreds of available job openings.
The result has been a decrease in upstate hospital capacity of about 10 percent. And a perfect storm of high patient volumes, reduced staff and an inability to discharge patients to nursing homes — which are themselves full — has begun to overwhelm some facilities, particularly in Western New York, the Finger Lakes region and the North Country, hospital executives said.
With Omicron now detected in New York City and on Long Island and the variant expected to spread, and few hospital beds upstate available for patients if Covid hospitalizations spike even higher, Ms. Hochul has declared a state of emergency.
On Wednesday, she announced that 120 National Guard troops would be deployed to back up nursing home staffs around the state. The governor’s office has so far announced nine facilities — nursing homes in Rochester, Buffalo, on Long Island and elsewhere — where soldiers will work. More locations will be announced soon.
The governor also said that all hospitals at over 90 percent capacity may be ordered to stop elective surgeries to deal with the surge. There were 56 hospitals in that category on Friday, including 10 in New York City, some of which had already taken that step.
“Hospitalizations are up, get this number, 150 percent upstate versus downstate,” Ms. Hochul said on Monday, of the rise in Covid hospitalizations since August. “Not that I’m trying to create an upstate-downstate divide in our state,” she added, “but these are the numbers we’re seeing and they’re very troubling.”
At Glens Falls Hospital in Warren County, about an hour north of Albany, patient volumes are at their highest since the start of the pandemic. About one-quarter of the beds are filled with Covid patients, the rest with patients with other ailments, including some who could typically be released to nursing homes but cannot be because of a lack of beds.
Covid-19 is widespread in Warren County, where there are 93 cases per 100,000 residents, about 5 times the rate in New York City. The virus test positivity rate is 12 percent, compared to 2 percent in New York City.
Yet masking in local stores in Glens Falls appeared uncommon, even as urgent care centers and hospitals fill with patients seeking tests and appointments. The county’s vaccination rate for all residents is 72 percent, which is actually above the state average of 69 percent, but a combination of relaxed…
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