ALBANY – Hospitals across New York are erecting tents, reworking underused space and doubling up rooms, all in hopes of adding beds as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues its rapid rise.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered each of the state’s 200-plus hospitals to put together plans to increase bed capacity by at least 50%, though he’s asked them to try to double it.
The capacity order is a major part of Cuomo’s coronavirus response plan, which will require hospital leaders to make significant changes as the state tries to increase its total bed capacity from 53,000 to 140,000.
And if the hospitals don’t comply? The state could take over.
The order allows state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, a Cuomo appointee, to name a “receiver” to take over leadership of the hospital, so long as he provides 24 hours notice.
The extraordinary power could be used as a cudgel to force change at hospitals that are resistant to Cuomo’s dramatic capacity-expansion order.
Thus far, Cuomo hasn’t had reason to use it; Hospitals have complied across the board, the governor said Tuesday.
“The hospitals are being cooperative,” Cuomo said. “We put out that rule that you have to add 50% capacity. They’ve all added 50% capacity. They’ve all responded.”
NY with most coronavirus cases in the country
New York had 75,795 patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — as of Tuesday morning, by far the most cases of any state in the nation.
Of those, 10,959 remained in hospital care — an increase of 1,412 from the day before. New York has 53,000 beds under normal circumstances, which also must house non-coronavirus patients.
The number of hospitalizations promises to continue its steady rise in the days ahead, with Cuomo saying the state is anticipating an apex of cases in the next six to 21 days, based on various projections.
The rapid rise threatens to overwhelm the state’s health care system and create any number of challenges for hospitals, some of which have already seen an influx of patients in the New York City area.
But complying with Cuomo’s order to add bed capacity? That hasn’t been an issue, according to organizations representing New York’s hospitals.
“Our hospitals have gone above and beyond from the very first day of this pandemic,” said Bea Grause, president of the Healthcare Association of NYS, or HANYS. “Complying with the governor’s order to expand capacity has never been an issue.”
The Greater New York Hospital Association, which has member hospitals across the state, agreed.
“I can safely say that not a single hospital is worried about their operating certificate being revoked,” said Brian Conway, a spokesman for the association.
“They’re totally committed to working with the governor and the state Department of Health to increase their bed capacity by at least 50%. Everyone’s on the same page.”
More beds? More workers in New York
An increase in bed capacity requires an increase in workers, however. And an increase in workers requires an increase in protective supplies, including masks, face shields and gowns — all of which are in great demand worldwide.
“More beds require more supplies and staff,” Grause said. “HANYS is working closely with the governor and the commissioner to make sure hospitals have everything they need to support their patients.”
Cuomo has repeatedly issued a call for retired medical workers and those from other states to help New York as it responds to the crisis.
So far, more than 70,000 have expressed interest, and a state portal is being set up this week to match volunteers with nearby medical centers, state officials said.
On Tuesday, Cuomo said the Health Department is working with hospitals in hopes of getting them to work as a single unit, rather than a collection of public and private entities competing for patients.
The goal, he said, is for hospitals in a particular area or region to maintain a similar level of patient capacity to avoid a situation where one hospital is overwhelmed when another is half-empty nearby.
Hospitals “have to get better and faster at transferring patients to other facilities,” Cuomo said.
“A perfect system – everybody’s at 51%, everybody’s at 60%, everybody’s at 80%, not some people at 40% and some people at 110%,” he said.
“That’s not the way the system is organized right now. They all talk, but they’re different fiefdoms, they’re different systems. You almost have to shock the system.”
Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.