Broome County hospitals may limit non-essential surgeries as staff shortages continue to strain system

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Broome County Executive Jason Garnar says UHS Wilson is among the hospitals that may have to comply with New York’s ban on non-essential surgeries, due to high capacity. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG) (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—UHS Wilson Hospital in Johnson City may soon suspend all elective procedures through January to make room for patients with COVID-19.

The rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions statewide has increased to over 300 a day in the last month. In response, New York Governor Kathy Hochul issued an executive order banning all elective surgeries at hospitals operating with less than 10% of beds available.

Broome County Executive Jason Garnar said that, as of Friday, UHS Wilson falls into that category. He said the county is waiting to hear whether Our Lady Of Lourdes Memorial Hospital in Binghamton also qualifies.

Procedures deemed non-essential include hip and knee replacements, and treatments for conditions like kidney stones. Cancer treatments or diagnostic procedures, neurosurgery and transplants are among the list of operations exempted from this policy, according to guidance from the New York State Department of Health (DOH) on Friday.

“There’s very little capacity left, and now we are forced to make those tough choices about who needs the most direct medical attention,” Garnar said during a live streamed COVID-19 briefing on Friday.

While the governor’s order went into effect on Friday, Erin Silk with the DOH said that determinations will be issued to facilities by Dec. 6. That will apply to procedures scheduled to occur on or after Dec. 9.

Silk said that, as of Friday, 31 hospitals in regions the state deems “at risk” had 10% or less of their beds available. That includes Guthrie Cortland Medical Center and A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital in Oneonta.

Nursing home staff shortages add to hospital strain

Garnar noted that the capacity problems in Broome County have been exacerbated by staffing shortages at local nursing homes.

“Hospitals cannot discharge patients into nursing homes,” Garnar said.
“So there are a lot of patients that are remaining in hospitals that could be sent to nursing homes, but can’t because of the staffing issues.”

The National Guard will be deployed to fill staffing shortages at Willow Point Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Vestal. County officials declared a state of emergency there last week.

The facility has suspended admissions and shut down three of its units. Garnar said 12 members of the National Guard will start at Willow Point this weekend to fill the gaps.

“It’s a temporary thing,” Garnar said. “The troops will stay for at least until the middle of January and that will be reevaluated by the state.”

The county executive added that staff shortages at the hospitals have, too, led to high capacity.

Broome County reported 67 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Friday, as well as over a thousand active cases of the virus. Garnar said he expects to see hospitalizations increase as more cases related to holiday gatherings emerge.

Garnar received his booster shot on Friday and asked people to do the same to prevent spreading COVID-19.