Fewer hospital beds as region struggles with spike in COVID cases

“My number one concern is hospital capacity"
county hospital data graph.png
Posted at 5:37 PM, Nov 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-29 18:36:04-05

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — There is a decrease in hospital beds in Western New York region and some leaders say it is due to the spike in COVID cases, but other political leaders are crying foul.

“It’s the county executive himself who has blamed the mask mandate on hospital utilization,” explained Gary Dickson, supervisor, Town of West Seneca.

Town of West Seneca Supervisor Gary Dickson.

Supervisor Dickson says Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is blaming hospital capacity for demanding and issuing a mask mandate at businesses again.

“It’s really only because we have fewer beds now that is causing the big problem. If we had maintained those beds, we would not have the problem now,” claims Dickson.

Dickson says “unfortunately” there is a more than 10-percent drop in hospital beds in the county according to data from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services and it has left hospitals “vulnerable”.

Governor Kathy Hochul has announced urgent action to boost hospital capacity. The state Department of Health would be permitted to limit non-essential and non-urgent scheduling of hospital procedures.

Governor Kathy Hochul announcing hospital bed capacity issues.

“We know exactly the hospitals we’re talking about — probably 32 to 36 hospitals right now fall into that category of having ten percent or less bed capacity,” Hochul explained.

Governor Hochul addressing the issue Monday afternoon saying hospitalizations are going up and it is very “concerning”.

“My number one concern is hospital capacity,” Hochul declared.

But Supervisor Dickson and State Senate Republican Minority Leader Rob Ortt say they believe it hospital staffing issues is the problem, not just COVID cases.

State Senate Republican Minority Leader Rob Ortt.

“I’d like to know how much of the capacity issue is related to staffing shortages verses actually not having enough beds and also how much of it is related to COVID specific,” replied Ortt.

Senator Ortt tells 7 Eyewitness News he plans to press the Governor on how much of the capacity issue is related to staffing shortages.

“We will be pressing them this week actually — myself, and I know members of the Assembly will be sending a letter to the governor and Department of Health requesting some of this data,” Ortt responded.

“A bed without staff is useless and it says nothing about the actual capacity of the system,” Dickson remarked.

Ortt says he believes there are fewer health care workers due to Governor Hochul's vaccine mandate.

“That’s a result of Governor Hochul’s policies on vaccine mandates for that staff — she’ can’t blame that on anybody else,” Ortt replied.

But Hochul says she's not backing down on her mandate.

Governor Kathy Hochul explaining how order works for hospital capacity.

“I will not be backing off on that — that is something I believe worked,” stated Hochul. “Every single individual who enters a healthcare facility, because they’re sick and they need someone to help take care of them and get them well — should never have the fear that they’re going to contract COVID from the person charged with taking care of their health.”

County Executive Poloncarz continues to sound the alarm bell of spiking COVID cases.

In a tweet, Poloncarz says hospital admissions prove “COVID-19 is a wildfire burning across WNY.”

Poloncarz using a graph to show the same time last year there were 379 COVID patients in all Western New York hospitals and right now there are 478.

I reached out to Poloncarz's office for an interview, but was told he wasn't available for comment, but in a statement, it said in part "to slow and reverse the troubling increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations" and "we have to continue to take measures as a community to reduce risks across all settings."

Meanwhile Governor Hochul stated the executive order on limiting non-essential hospital procedures will go into effect Friday, December 3 and would be reevaluated January 15.

“Beginning on December 3 elective procedures at these short-staffed hospitals will decease and we will reassess that again January 15. Now — flexibility — key to success — if they are able secure the necessary capacity and their bed capacity goes up — we don’t have to wait until January 15 — we are not going to just have a hardened fast rule that doesn’t show injection of reality into it.”

Sunday, the Erie County Medical Center updated it's patient visitation guidelinesdue to rising COVID cases. But it did not address any changes to elective surgeries and non-emergency needs.

Kaleida Health tells 7 Eyewitness News it has not made any changes as of Monday.

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Outside Catholic Health on Oak Street, Buffalo.

Catholic Health issuing on update on visitation changes early Monday evening. In a news release, Catholic Health saying "as a result of the surge in COVID-19 cases that has placed significant pressure on hospital capacity across the region, non-COVID patients in Catholic Health hospitals will be limited to one visitor at a time during reduced hours beginning Wednesday, December 1, 2021."

Visiting hours will be from 12 to 6 p.m. daily at the following Catholic Health Hospitals:

  • Kenmore Mercy Hospital
  • Mercy Hospital of Buffalo
  • Mount St. Mary’s Hospital
  • Sisters of Charity Hospital, Main St.
  • St. Joseph Campus in Cheektowaga
  • In-person visitation is not permitted in restricted COVID units except for patients receiving end-of-life care.

Catholic Health says "emergency department patients may be accompanied by one visitor for a period of time based on patient census and other factors determined by the clinical team."

But Catholic Health says if a patient is being tested for possible COVID-19 or is confirmed positive while in the emergency department, the accompanying visitor will be asked to leave the hospital and will receive further information by telephone.

"Maternity patients will continue to be allowed two support persons for the duration of their hospital stay but additional visitors will not be permitted at this time. In certain outpatient settings, where space permits, patients may be accompanied by a support person for their appointments."