(new) NORMAL ARRIVES
By ELIZABETH COOPER • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – No new cases in a week in Otsego County.
At a press conference Tuesday, May 12, in Bassett Hall, Healthcare Network leaders said the region has entered a new phase in the wake of its battle with the coronavirus. The network is already starting to ramp its number of surgeries back up and is looking forward to achieving a sort of new normalcy over the next eight to 10 weeks.
“We have all been through collectively a dramatic change,” Network President/CEO Bill Streck said. “One that was really unimaginable, in truth.”
Governor Cuomo deciding Otsego County and its Mohawk Valley Region can begin Phase 1 of the staged reopening process Friday, May 15, is largely because of the low number of local cases.
Otsego County’s last positive case was found April 27, about two weeks ago, county Public Health Director Heidi Bond said. There have been a total of 62 positive cases and four deaths since mid-March, when the emergency began. Four people have died.
Bond praised the community for its careful adherence to the protocols.
“I just think the public has been doing a great job doing the social distancing and everything that’s needed to be done,” she said. “We have to keep doing what we need to do to keep transmission numbers low.”
The COVID crisis has taken a tough financial toll on Bassett, Streck said. In April, there was a 40- to 50-percent decline in the number of patient visits, as patients opted to stay home out of concern they might contract the virus at the hospital. Additionally, all non-emergency surgeries had been put on hold.
Because business was brisk in the first part of the year, before the COVID crisis began, the hospital is only down a total of 15 percent in patient visits, but it won’t be clear how that has affected the hospital financially for another few months, Streck said.
“That’s still tens of millions of dollars,” Streck said. Federal grants are helping, but they don’t fill the gap, he said.
The network has already begun surgeries for issues that could be delayed for a period, such as non-aggressive cancer surgeries or ones to address chronic pain. Bassett has also been authorized to perform outpatient elective surgeries.
There has been an uptick in emergency room visits, which doctors said could mean that patients had delayed coming to the hospital, but now staff is anticipating that more people will start coming to the hospital for regular care.
“People should not hesitate to seek the care they need,” said Dr. Steve Heneghan, chief clinical officer.
New safety precautions are being implemented at the hospital to protect patients and staff alike.
All patients entering Bassett facilities will have their temperatures taken. If they are found to have a fever, they will be diverted and assessed to determine if they might have the virus.
“We will address them effectively and kindly to make sure that they are cared for in the right sequence and separated from the broader population if required,” Streck said.
Masks will be worn by all patients and staff during visits, and changes to waiting areas may be implemented to better allow for distancing. Additionally, patients undergoing surgeries will be tested for the virus to ensure that they and all those they come into contact with at the hospital are safe.
Bassett has begun doing antibody tests on patients who have a doctor’s order, and many people have expressed an interest in being tested, said Dr. Charles Hyman, senior attending physician in Infectious Diseases.
It isn’t yet known whether exposure to the virus brings immunity, however.
“Until we know more, social distancing, good hand hygiene and adherence to
other recommended precautions remain the best methods of preventing COVID-19,” Hyman said.