Northern NY hospitals prepare for coronavirus patients from downstate

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) New York is seeing the highest number of positive COVID-19 cases in the country at more than 83,000 cases. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is asking all hospitals to be ready to step in if needed. But are North Country Hospitals prepared for a surge of new patients? We sent our Kelly O'Brien to find out.

The Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital says they are more than ready to take on a surge of new patients from downstate but their priority lies first with the locals.

"We're dealing with a war we've never dealt with before. We need a totally different mindset and organizational transformation," said Cuomo, D-New York.

The governor called on all hospitals around the state to be ready to open their doors to patients from different communities.

"We are not sure what type of patients they would be sending us," said Kenneth Thayer of the Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital. "We're not sure if they would be critical care patients which would need ventilators, or if they are just general medical patients that are receiving antibiotics for the course of their treatment and they would be discharged home."

Cuomo says the pandemic is overwhelming the state's health care system and providers need to work together.

"It can't be the downstate hospitals and the upstate hospitals and the Long Island hospitals when we talk about capacity of beds. When I say we now have 75,000 beds, that's a statewide number," Cuomo said.

After the governor proposed the idea of working as one system, the largest hospital in the region, CVPH, needed to make some changes to their surge plans.

"We have expanded our ICU capabilities by over 100%. So, we actually have 200% capacity right now for intensive care patients," Thayer said.

But their real struggle is with staffing.

"We're trying to train up nurses that were working in the OR, in a critical care field and getting them to a point where they can be comfortably caring for some of those critical patients," Thayer said.

They say they are ready but their surge plans prioritize local patients from Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties.

"We've been working since day one to garner resources and shift our function so that we are prepared to take care of the people in our community," said Chris Blake of CVPH.

Right now, the hospital says they have no patients from outside the community and they don't know if they ever will. But CVPH is working with the county health department and emergency services to find a location for a makeshift hospital if the surge requires more beds than they have.