Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order Friday to borrow respirators from Upstate hospitals was greeted with dismay from Western New York health officials and politicians.
Jody L. Lomeo, president and CEO of Kaleida Health, said the system’s disaster planning and implementation for the coronavirus over the past weeks “has been based upon the state’s daily request for preparedness and the expectation that the surge is coming, and in particular, to Western New York.”
Olean General Hospital, which has taken in two COVID-19 patients over the past week — one Allegany County resident and one from the southeast part of Cattaraugus County — hadn’t received a specific request from the state.
“We heard the governor’s comments,” said Dennis McCarthy, director of marketing for Upper Allegheny Health System, which operates Olean General and Bradford Regional Medical Center. The hospitals are affiliated with the Kaleida Health.
“We have no specific requests or information relative to ventilators being redistributed to hospitals downstate hospital,” McCarthy said.
Cuomo issued an executive order earlier Friday that ventilators and other equipment be sent to New York City hospitals.
New York state tallied its biggest daily jump yet in deaths — up 562 to 2,935. Almost 15,000 people were hospitalized.
“You have more deaths, you have more people coming into hospitals than any other night,” a weary sounding Cuomo told a state Capitol news briefing.
As of Friday evening, New York City on its own tallied 1,867 deaths.
NYC hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients, and officials fear they will soon run out of breathing machines for intensive care patients. Cuomo said his executive order will allow the state to redeploy excess ventilators and protective equipment from hospitals and other institutions. He said there could be several hundred excess ventilators.
“I’m not going to let people die because we didn’t redistribute ventilators,” Cuomo said.
The governor wants upstate hospitals to loan 20% of their unused ventilators to struggling downstate hospitals. National Guard members will pick up ventilators across the state and institutions that give up equipment will get it back or be reimbursed, he said.
U.S. Rep. Tom Reed was quick to weigh in on Cuomo’s latest directive in his aggressive fight against COVID-19, which has impacted New York more than any other state. He called the governor’s action to take ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) “reckless.”
“Cases and deaths are increasing today in Western New York,” Reed, R-Corning, said. “Multiple intubations are occurring regularly. We have to protect all New Yorkers, including Upstate.”
Reed said the order, including using the National Guard to gather the equipment, had the appearance of taking the equipment by force.
“That doesn’t sound like a request or working together,” Reed said. “That sounds like force. Once we lose these ventilators they are never coming back.”
Assemblyman Joseph Giglio called Cuomo’s order an “extreme measure” that would leave Western New York more vulnerable.
“There has to be a better way,” Giglio said. “Pitting the needs of one region of the state against those of others is not the way we win the war against the coronavirus.”
Giglio said the ventilators cannot be replaced because they are not available for purchase.
“Taking this crucial resource from our hospitals just as the number of COVID-19 cases is rising exponentially in our region is unacceptable and puts the lives of our citizens at risk,” he said.
State Sen. George Borrello, R-Chautauqua, said he was “shocked” by the executive order.
“We are seeing on a daily basis the rapid spread of this unpredictable virus in cities and communities across Upstate,” he said.
Borrello pointed out that in Erie County cases are multiplying fast — 21 deaths had been reported as of Friday afternoon.
“While we understand the extreme circumstances that hospitals in New York City and downstate are experiencing, the health and safety of our Upstate residents is just as critical,” the senator said.
Olean General and Bradford Regional hospitals have about 30 respirators between them. Under Cuomo’s earlier directive to increase bed capacity, Olean General is adding 75 beds in its ambulatory surgical center. Bradford Regional, which is not under Cuomo’s order, is adding 40 beds.
Lomeo, of Kaleida, said hoping for no surge in WNY or a promise of reimbursement for ventilators in the future “would be irresponsible.”
Lomeo added, “we are always willing to help our neighbors, but not at the expense of the community that we are accountable for. ... Instead, I would welcome and encourage us all to develop a more collaborative plan that doesn’t jeopardize lives and result in further chaos and panic.”
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)