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As the Coronavirus arrives, Schuyler Hospital prepares
Gould outlines the planning and proactive measures
By Charlie Haeffner
MONTOUR FALLS, March 27, 2020 -- To say that Schuyler Hospital is on alert would be putting it mildly.
It has followed the directive of Governor Andrew Cuomo to expand bed capacity, renting beds amid a plan to turn private rooms into two-bed rooms and use space in elective surgery operating rooms if need be. The result would be an increase in normal bed capacity to 37 from the current 16.
Planning, planning and more planning is also a daily staple, as the hospital administrators and staff brace for what follows now that a confirmed case of COVID-19 has been reported by Schuyler County Public Health. (See People). And they hope, with that in mind, to avoid a surge in the number of such cases.
While Schuyler County had been dodging the bullet, the county has no special dispensation from nature's way.
And so it has happened -- after appearing in Steuben County and Chemung County in single-digit occurrences, along with more than 20 cases in Tompkins County.
But before dwelling more on that, Gould wanted to emphasize a point as we all worry about the coronavirus and, by extension, social interaction. The county, like much of the country, has gone into a distance mode -- its residents staying six feet away from other people, when possible, and in fact not leaving home except out of necessity.
But if any of us are injured or get ill with something more conventional than corona like a cold or flu or other internal malady, Schuyler Hospital is there for us, Gould stressed. We just have to go to the Emergency Department entrance, where we will be met by a staff member for screening -- questions regarding our health and a check of our temperature -- before sending us to an appropriate portion of the hospital for observation or treatment. The same thing -- screening -- goes for rehabilitation visits.
There is a COVID-19 hotline phone number, too, accessible from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. It can be reached by dialing 535-8602.
Now, about all that planning. Gould said the hospital brass meets with staff daily to reinforce the need for them to look after themselves as well as their patients.
Staying healthy and sharp is important, she said, because this doesn't look like any short-term event. "We're in this for the long haul," she noted.
The hospital staff numbers 450 people, with a full-time equivalent of about 380. Those numbers, Gould said, make Schuyler Hospital the largest employer in the county and its biggest economic engine "by far" in terms of the ripple effect -- where its employees shop at local stores, which in turn pay their staff, who in turn shop at other stores, and so on ...
She said the hospital is keyed into the community in more than an economic way, exemplified by the co-dependence exhibited by each in times of trouble.
"We've been working with the community," she said, and the community with the hospital. "We've been overwhelmed," she said, "by the generosity of businesses and individuals" in providing donations of items and, in some cases, cash. For anyone wishing to help in that vein, a list of needed items is posted on the hospital website.
Beyond that, a number of area sewing experts have offered to do locally what is being done in Tompkins County: make masks for hospital personnel -- a commodity always needed and particularly so in the case of a coronavirus surge locally.
Those masks will be created in addition to the stout N95 masks used by the hospital in certain conditions, for certain cases. The handmade variety will help immensely, she said.
As for other oft-cited needs, Gould said that "we have been conserving PPE's" (Personal Protective Equipment) while seeking donations of more; and that the hospital has "some ventilators" and can work in tandem on that front with Cayuga Health partner Cayuga Medical Center -- which a news report Friday said had 25 ventilators. The same article quoted a CMC official as saying that number was "adequate."
In the meantime, the hospital is paring costs, directing traditional outlays such as ad buys into other areas in preparation for ... well, nobody is sure for what, exactly.
"I wish I had a crystal ball," said Gould. "It would make all these decisions easier."
Predicting the coming need -- whether in beds, PPE's, masks or various contingencies -- is a challenge, "just as we're all facing challenges," said Gould. "My heart goes out to all those businesses that have been closed" or curtailed, and to individuals facing the loss of jobs.
She, like anyone else, has adopted caution in her mobile choices -- keeping a distance of six feet, if possible, while shopping, even at the checkout line -- "although someone the other day came right up close behind me" in one such line.
She urges that social distancing gap of a half-dozen feet, "going out only when you need to," and washing your hands and applying sanitizer -- and even wiping down with a sanitizing wipe any packages brought into the home from outside sources.
"It's a trying time for all of us," Gould said. "This pandemic is changing the way we live."
But one thing remains constant, she said. The hospital "is here to provide quality care."
Photo in text: Schuyler Hospital President/CFO Rebecca Gould speaking at a recent public health update session at the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls.
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