OLEAN — Olean General Hospital is converting its ambulatory surgical center into a 75-bed facility in preparation for COVID-19 patients by April 1.
The Mildred Milliman Outpatient Surgery Center is located across Main Street from OGH in the Boardmanville neighborhood.
Upper Allegheny Health System officials are adding 40 beds at Bradford Regional Medical Center to be ready for a surge in infections as well.
The first surge of coronavirus patients at local hospitals could come from New York City, where hospitals are overwhelmed and COVID-19 deaths are rising.
Meanwhile, Cattaraugus County remains one of the few counties in the state without a confirmed case of novel coronavirus.
Dr. Kevin Watkins, the county’s public health director, said 92 county residents were under quarantine, including several families. Seventy-nine were under mandatory quarantine and 13 were quarantined as a precaution.
Cattaraugus County is the only Western New York county and one of just a handful in the state without a positive case of coronavirus. Just over 100 residents have been tested.
Watkins said county health officials and others “are operating under the premise the virus is present in our area.”
Health Department nurses keep busy visiting those under quarantine in their homes daily.
About a dozen COVID-19 test results are being awaited. Watkins has orders in for up to 30,000 coronavirus test kits.
Having to conserve the remaining test kits available in the county, when one individual comes from an area of widespread coronavirus — from Europe to New York City — the entire family is often quarantined in their home, Watkins said.
Physicians are asking for tests of their patients when they develop a sudden shortness of breath, a persistent cough and body aches — particularly when they test negative for influenza.
There is good reason for travelers from New York City to self-isolate for 14 days, especially if they have any symptoms of coronaviurus, Watkins said.
The public health director said he’s frustrated at the lack of testing locally, particularly when the county is surrounded by counties with positive COVID-19 cases, including two in Allegany County.
Olean General Hospital will soon require all employees to wear masks. This will help protect patients and staff from healthcare workers who begin to show symptoms at work, said Dr. William Mills, vice president for quality and professional care.
All entering the hospital this week have had their temperature scanned. Most visitors have been prohibited at the hospitals for the past two weeks over coronavirus concerns.
“If our employees have the infection with no symptoms, they could spread it to every other employee,” wiping out the entire hospital staff, Mills said.
“We are trying to protect our infrastructure” and limit asymptomatic exposure, Mills said. “We are trying to protect folks.”
The hospital has a five- to eight-day supply of masks and other personal protective equipment, Mills told reporters during a media call Thursday. Kaleida Health has promised Upper Allegheny Health Systems and its two hospitals delivery of a 30-day supply some time this weekend.
Jeff Zewe, Upper Allegheny president and CEO, and Mills addressed a question about the possibility of local hospitals taking in some of the surge of COVID-19 patients from the New York City area. They said they were following through on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's directive that all hospitals in the state increase their capacity by 50% should the need arise.
On Thursday, Cuomo discussed the possibility that patients from the NYC area could be sent to Upstate hospitals as a "last option."
There are fewer than 30 ventilators available between the two hospitals, with promises of another 10 arriving soon. Ventilators are needed for the most serious of coronavirus cases.
Zewe said hospital authorities were thankful for the number of people who have sewn masks and donated them to the hospital. That’s another reason officials feel comfortable moving to the universal use of masks.
Mills said hospitals still do not have coronavirus testing supplies, which are being concentrated in hot spots like New York City.
Mills said a number of retired doctors and nurses had called the hospital to ask how they could help.
Mills said the area’s low prevalence of COVID-19 would not last forever. The cooperation among area medical facilities and groups preparing for an outbreak of virus here.
More doctors are using secure video conferencing for patients who do not need to see a physician at this time. And emergency room visits have dropped by 50%.
“Prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” sums up the efforts of local health and emergency services officials, Mills said. For now the social distancing and isolation appears to be working.
“Preparation is the key,” Mills said “We are well ahead of the curve as far as preparation. We will have added 110 beds by April 1.”