Erie County officials share concern over hospital capacity, staffing as COVID cases rise

Posted at 11:58 PM, Nov 25, 2020

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Western New York and Erie County hit yet another grim milestone Wednesday afternoon with new hospitalization numbers.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said there are 316 people fighting COVID-19 in Western New York hospitals. Erie County is seeing 264 of those cases.

"Those are the highest recorded totals ever," Poloncarz said.

“We just keep going about as we’re doing now. This is what we can expect to see. It’s an exponential growth in the number of hospital admissions and it could far surpass what our capacity is,” Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said.

Both Dr. Burstein and Poloncarz spoke with hospital leaders who they say collectively are worried about staffing issues, among other things.

“The issue is do we as a community act in such a way tomorrow that we put more people at risk?” Poloncarz questioned.

Poloncarz said area hospitals are preparing for the surge.

“Those on the front line, they’re tired. They’re dedicated, they’re hardworking but they’re tired…we’ve been focused on taking those employees, making sure that they’re healthy and safe,” Kaleida Health spokesperson Michael Hughes said in a Zoom interview Wednesday night.

Hughes said the hospital system learned from the first wave and focused on four areas ahead of the second wave: personnel, space, equipment and testing.

While COVID-19 number continue to rise, Hughes said the hospital is operating within its capacity at the time being. Right now, 140 patients are fighting the virus out of 1,000 inpatient beds.

“For us it’s really a day-by-day, hour-by-hour look at this thing,” Hughes said.

7 Eyewitness News Reporter Nikki DeMentri asked infectious diseases expert, Dr. Thomas Russo: “Can the community pull together to turn these numbers around? Do you think that’s possible right now?”
Dr. Russo answered: “Oh of course it’s possible. It’s just resolve, will and really thinking of community ahead of one self.”

Dr. Russo who is Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo shares in concerns and is asking the community to “hunker down” for the winter.

“And be rigorous about following the public health measures that we know works and is really the only way we know that we can prevent infectious until we get to the vaccine,” Dr. Russo added.

A good sign, Dr. Russo notes, is ICU and ventilator use are not increasing at the same rate compared to Erie County’s peak in the spring. He believes that is the case for two reasons: the most vulnerable are taking every precaution to stay safe and there are now several COVID treatments.

The state is preparing a “winter plan” which will prioritize zones with the highest infection and hospitalization rates.