Cattaraugus County Emergency Services working with Olean General Hospital

From left and standing are Chris Baker, Cattaraugus County Emergency Services director; Dr. Brian Walters, EMS medical director; Sami Placer, a member of Olean General Hospital’s COVID response team; Robert Kuhn, EMS coordinator; and Anthony Ellis of the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office (seated).

OLEAN — Olean General Hospital has three COVID-19 patients and six others under review as of Wednesday, hospital officials report.

At the same time, a 12th Cattaraugus County resident has tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The Bradford Regional Medical Center has no confirmed coronavirus patients, but three are under review. One positive COVID-19 case has been reported in McKean County.

“The lack of testing kits throughout the U.S. continues to be an issue and therefore, the lack of confirmed cases probably isn’t a true measure of COVID-19 activity in our communities,” said Dr. William Mills, senior vice president, quality and professional affairs for Upper Allegheny Health Systems.

“Therefore, it is important for our patients and residents to practice social distancing, stay home and practice good hand hygiene, to prevent the spread of this virus.”

Jeff Zewe, chief executive officer at Upper Allegheny Health System, which operates OGH and BRMC, said the hospitals are ready for what may come.

“Over the last month, we’ve worked hard and managed appropriately to plan for the surge,” he added. “Our surge plans are ready, and include increasing bed capacity at OGH by 75 beds and BRMC by 30 beds, setting up temporary tents by both emergency departments, and enhanced education for our staff and communities.”

Zewe said volumes are down 65% at the hospitals, outpatient settings and our physician practice network.

“The prevalence of COVID-19-positive patient numbers in the region is low and we’ve seen few patients coming in with respiratory symptoms,” he said. “The low volumes are a direct reflection of the overall plan working.”

Zewe said officials are consistent in the message that hand washing and social distancing “is the cure.” He said the message is being “heard and followed as people are staying home and this is paying off with very few positive confirmed cases in Cattaraugus and McKean counties.”

He said the pandemic is far from over but from a medical standpoint there is a glimmer of positive signs from the New York City area. Hospitalization rates are trending down as well as ICU usage, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Zewe said the first phase, dealing with a crisis and establishing swift plan to prepare the hospitals for a surge of patients, has been accomplished.

“Again, this is far from over, so people need to continue to be vigilant,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said Cuomo’s executive order Tuesday announced a “real-time” solution for all hospitals and healthcare systems in the state regarding ventilators.

“This announcement offers clarity in a time of unease and anxiety. That’s good news,” Zewe said.

All equipment and supplies will remain in place until redeployment is needed.

“If — and only if — redeployment occurs, the state Department of Health (DOH) and the Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS) would work with providers to rapidly code and transport equipment,” Zewe said.

The sending hospital would be notified of the location of its ventilators when they reach their destination to facilitate a return. The state is not taking supplies now for stockpiling purposes, he added, and no equipment has moved from OGH.

Zewe said the region has shown the hospitals “a lot of love and kindness” through the pandemic.

“Groups are making homemade face masks and donating PPE, people have had food delivered from area restaurants to our front-line staff and local companies are producing face shields on 3-D printers,” he said.

OGH also offered special thanks to the Cattaraugus County Emergency Operation Center (EOC) for supplying the hospital emergency department with a trailer and two tents used for storage and to triage patients.

The EOC also assisted OGH’s efforts in preparing for a patient surge by locating four critically needed beds, obtaining disinfectant, facemasks, face shields and disposable stethoscopes.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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