New York hospitals to coordinate COVID-19 fight

Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office
One of the new hospital beds in the Jacob Javits Center which opened this week to make room for COVID-19 patients in other New York City hospitals. A new organizational plan announced today will have hospitals statewide, private and public, working together to fight the virus outbreak in the weeks and months to come.

With New York’s hospitals on the frontline of the battle with COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is planning an organizational transformation of the hospital system to allow for uniform functioning and planning as the height of the outbreak approaches.

As of March 31, New York state has 75,795 positive cases for coronavirus. With the numbers continuing to rise and the date of the apex uncertain, New York’s hospitals will need to work together, operate as a single system, and pool resources, the governor said Tuesday.

The hospital unity plan is meant to remove geographical and operational separation between public and private hospitals and upstate and downstate hospitals.

There are 160 private hospitals and 11 public hospitals in New York state that operate separately, under different professional associations, and to some extent, under different missions.

“We have to get those two systems, the private system and the public system … working together in a way they never did before,” Governor Cuomo said. “The distinction of private and public has to go out the window. We are one health care system.”

Elmhurst Hospital, a public hospital in Queens, became a location with added burden and was quickly overwhelmed, an example of what happens when there is no help from other hospitals in the state.

“The health care system is a chain,” Cuomo said. “It breaks anywhere, it breaks everywhere. That has to be our mentality.”

Governor Cuomo and Health Commission Howard Zucker are suggesting that supplies be pooled as a New York state stockpile and then dispatched to locations in the state that need them the most. In addition, there is a full plan in place for how to move people among hospitals, including both staff and patients.

A central coordinating team, led by the state’s Department of Health and consisting of representatives from Westchester County, the Greater New York Hospital Association, the Healthcare Association of New York State, New York City and Long Island, has been tasked with coming up with a uniform approach for dealing with the outbreak.

This team will help organize upstate and downstate patient transfers, organize staffing needs and will set patient loads for hospitals to prevent capacity overload. Transfers will be made within and among the different systems and associations.

The team will also organize transfers to the USNS Comfort, which arrived in the New York harbor on March 30.

“We’re dealing with a war we’ve never dealt with before,” Cuomo said. “We need a totally different mindset and organizational transformation. We can’t do business the way we have always done business. We need an unprecedented sense of cooperation of flexibility, communication and speed.”