Edward Ryan of Cortlandville was more than concerned: A good friend at the Guthrie Cortland rehabilitation facility was being moved, and the friend was afraid it was to make room for COVID-19 patients.
Patients were moved at the rehabilitation center, said Dr. Joseph A. Scopelliti, CEO of Guthrie in Sayre, Pennsylvania, which operates the 162-bed hospital and adjacent 80-bed nursing home and rehabilitation center in Cortland.
But it was specifically to keep COVID patients who would otherwise be in a skilled nursing facility separate from both other COVID patients and other nursing home and rehabilitation patients.
“Once we have a patient, we want to segment that patient,” Scopelliti said Friday. “The nursing home patients need to stay in their portion of the building.”
The explanation reassured Ryan. “He was quite frightened by the whole situation,” Ryan said of his friend. The move reminded them of an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 25 requiring nursing homes to accept patients who had tested positive for coronavirus.
“We all know what happened, mostly downstate,” Ryan said. Between 6,400 and 8,000 nursing home patients died of coronavirus before the order was rescinded May 10.
To keep skilled nursing facility patients isolated, the rehabilitation unit was cleared and those patients moved to other parts of the nursing facility, Scopelliti said.
That allowed the COVID-19 patients to be isolated in the rehabilitation unit, which has a negative air pressure space that prevents the spread of viruses.
That space is separate from the hospital’s primary space to isolate coronavirus patients, he said.
“We’ll move patients to those parts of the building where we have a negative air pressure space — or where we can make one,” Scopelliti said. “We’re going to have to do that through the winter.”
“That sounds like a logical explanation,” Ryan said. “I’m satisfied.”
Cortland County’s Health Department reported seven coronavirus patients hospitalized Friday, the most since the pandemic began nine months ago. While that approaches Guthrie Cortland Medical Center’s capacity to treat those patients, the number does not exceed it, Scopelliti said.
Even if it did, he added, Guthrie and other health-care providers in the region agreed months ago to collaborate to take patients in. The first choice, if Guthrie must move a COVID patient, is a facility of the family’s choice, followed by a facility where the patient has had a clinical relationship and would have the patient’s records.
The third choice would be another Guthrie facility, where a recent upgrade of the Cortland records system means the patient’s records would be immediately accessible.
Greater Cortland area residents can help prevent the need for that, Scopelliti said.
The fear is a major spike will overwhelm health-care facilities, but social distancing, masks and frequent handwashing will slow the spread of coronavirus to a level hospitals can manage.
“We are asking that the public smooth out the volume for us,” he said. And that requires a bit more judgment than simply following the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.
“Small gatherings in small spaces is a risk,” Scopelliti said. Two or three people in a car, or even an extended family around a close dining room table. “No big crowds in small air spaces.”