Guthrie Cortland Medical Center has the beds for patients, should it see a surge in coronavirus cases, but it’s still working on getting more staff for the hospital, the hospital president said Tuesday.
“We do have our surge plan,” said Jennifer Yartym, the president of the hospital. “We have different triggers and different levels. We have bed capacity here at Cortland and based on our existing surge plan, what we can surge up to.”
Concerns over bed capacity and staffing come as the Central New York region only has 20% bed capacity, 31% with surge diversion in place, according to a report Monday from the governor’s office.
Guthrie has already had to implement its surge plan. For 20 hours between Dec. 27 and 28, the hospital had to send seven patients to other hospitals because the state was concerned the hospital had reached 85% of its bed capacity.
To create more bed capacity, the hospital began postponing elective surgeries around Christmas. That not only freed up beds, but staff too, Yartym said.
Yartym also said the hospital doesn’t need to create more beds because it has “expanded into existing capacity” that it hadn’t needed to use.
The hospital has the ability to use up to 77 beds for coronavirus patients.
“And when we talk about our normal, average pre-COVID we were running mid-30s, so we have double the capacity or have the ability to double the capacity,” Yartym said.
Some of the actions the hospital has taken to hire more staff include:
Asking retired nurses to come back to help with surges in patients.
Contracting with part-time employees who want to work full time to pick up those additional shifts on a per diem basis.
Asking full-time employees to pick up more than their normally scheduled three 12-hour shifts a week.
Yartym said the nurse-to-patient ratio is typically 5-to-1.
“If we were truly in a very large surge, we may surge up to 7-to-1,” she said
She said in the intensive care unit the patient-to-nurse ratio is usually 2-to-1 but if there was a surge it could be 3-to-1.
“We’re not in that situation currently,” she said.
Yartym also said on a daily basis she has a call with the presidents of all the regional healthcare organizations, “so we know exactly where everybody is at and what their capacity is and whether they can take patients, whether they can’t and who has the ability to transfer.”
She said that gives the hospitals in the region the flexibility, so no one organization becomes overwhelmed.
She also said in the past the hospital has taken patients from other hospitals.
“It’s primarily those that may have gone someplace else and want to transfer back here,” she said. “That’s not unique to just the last week or two.”
But in the last two weeks, she said, there have been no transfers in from other facilities that could be hitting or close to hitting capacity.
“We have not had any of our partners request at this point to transfer any patients to us for those reasons,” she said.
Yartym said there are also no concerns the hospital would need to step back from distributing the vaccine even if it saw a surge in coronavirus patients, as happened in Onondaga County where the county health department took control of distribution of the vaccine.
“The fabulous thing about being part of the Guthrie system is that we have a larger pool of resources to pull from and we have engaged some of our medical group staff and providers to assist with our vaccination clinics,” she said. “We’re not currently utilizing frontline RN staff for our vaccination clinics. We are keeping those on the front lines where we need them most.”
Yartym said the message remains:
People should continue to follow the recommended guidelines for social distancing and masks.
People can really help by limiting their smaller gatherings because that is where spread is occurring.
People should follow all their doctor’s recommendations for underlying conditions or issues they are facing and not be afraid to come to the hospital if they need to.
“Don’t stay away from the emergency room out of fear,” she said. “Please seek medical attention and follow your provider’s guidance, because if we let those routine things go they then become emergent issues.”
Cayuga Medical Center officials couldn’t be reached for comment on how they would handle a surge in coronavirus patients.