ONEONTA – For certified Physician’s Assistant Mallory Delaney, medicine isn’t about talking to a patient.
It’s about listening.
“You want to get people to feel like they’re in the driver’s seat,” she said. “No matter what road they’re going to go down.”
For example, she said, it was easier to get patients to wear masks if they knew it would keep a parent or elderly relative safe. “You have to be collaborative with patients,” she said.
“It’s figuring out what they’re scared of or looking forward to, and working with them from there.”
Delaney, who works at the Bassett Heathcare Clinic at 125 Main St., was named one of this year’s state Senate’s “Women of Distinction” during a ceremony last week, where she was presented a plaque by state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford.
“It’s really a remarkable honor,” she said. “But I can’t help but think that this year, all the women in healthcare should be Woman of the Year!”
“I would not be here without the dedication of our healthcare workers,” said Seward, who battled COVID earlier this year. “Normally we put out a press release asking for nominations but, this year, I thought it was important to name a woman in healthcare who gave exemplary service during the pandemic.”
Delaney was recommended to him by now-retired Bassett Healthcare Network President/CEO Bill Streck. “The more I read and heard about her, the more convinced I was that she was an excellent choice,” said Seward.
A native of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Delaney did her undergraduate at Penn State and her physician assistant’s program at Duke University.
“I always knew I wanted to do something in medicine,” she said. “Then I did the LIFE Geisinger program in Scranton, working with elderly and frail populations, and I thought that it might be a direction I wanted to go in.”
She worked at Our Lady of Peace convent, taking care of elderly nuns. “It really taught me to be collaborative with patients,” she said.
In 2014, she moved to Oneonta for the job at Bassett.
It was that bedside manner that helped when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and Delaney found herself outside all day every day, in snow, in sleet, in rain, administering “drive-thru” COVID tests in the parking lot.
“When we first started, I joked that we should just go ahead and put up decorations for the Fourth of July,” she said. “And the other nurse said that there was no way we’d still be here! We had to keep our sense of humor.”
Before rapid-testing and saliva tests were available, patients had to sit, often in the cold, and have a swab shoved deep into their nostrils. “I would tell them to think about some-thing in the future they were looking forward to,” she said.
If one was particularly nervous, she could reassure them with her own experience. “I told people that I had it done and it wasn’t even the worst part of my day,” she said.
In all, she estimates she did well over a thousand tests. “For awhile, we were doing 300 tests a month,” she said.
She lives in Oneonta with her cat, Charlie, who she adopted from the Susquehanna SPCA. She volunteers with the shelter, and plays flute at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where she is also a parishioner.
And when she got the call that she had been chosen to receive the Woman of Distinction award, she was at the bedside of an elderly neighbor, assisting her with her end-of-life needs.
“True to form, she was tending to someone’s needs,” Seward said.
COOPERSTOWN – Dr. James Dalton, MD, Bassett Hospital’s Medical Education director for 18 years, has been awarded the Healthcare Network’s most prestigious recognition for a physician, the Walter A. Franck Physician Excellence Award.
The award was established to honor of Dr. Frank, the rheumatologist who retired from Bassett in 2015 after more than four decades of service, to a doctor who emulates his service to patients, students, colleagues and the community. Bassett physicians vote on the choice.
COOPERSTOWN – Though all employees, visitors and vendors are required to wear a mask in Bassett Healthcare facilities, the hospital confirmed that no patient will be denied treatment for refusing to wear a mask.
“It is still the exception that anyone coming to the hospital or clinics refuses to wear a mask,” said Karen Huxtable-Hooker, public relations director. “But Bassett cannot turn away patients who refuse to wear a mask. We must provide treatment and care to all.”
By ELIZABETH COOPER • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Bassett’s new president and CEO has been called “a man on a mission.”
Just 39, Dr. Tommy Ibrahim has accomplished a great deal in a short time.
He graduated from medical school at 23 and made a rapid ascent into leadership positions, most recently serving as executive vice president and chief physician executive for Integris Health System, the largest not-for-profit and state-owned health care system in Oklahoma. It’s a top 25 healthcare system, according to U.S. News and World Report.
“He brings to us the experience of being the top physician leader of a large, highly regarded health system,” said Douglas Hastings, chairman of the network board, in announcing the appointment Tuesday, May 19. He praised Ibrahim’s “innovative and forward-looking drive to embrace the future of healthcare and to advance Bassett’s mission of improving the health of our patients and the well-being of our communities.”
Ibrahim will succeed Bill Streck as head of the eight-county hospital system when he arrives here in mid- to late July.
Ibrahim called the position at Bassett “a wonderful opportunity for any leader.”
“It is a phenomenal organization and has a legacy that is unparalleled,” he said, pointing to Bassett’s academic and research strengths and its rural setting. “The opportunity to be a part of that and to continue shaping the future of such a prestigious organization is really the main attraction.”
Ibrahim said he will begin by listening and learning as much about Bassett as possible.
“How we move together as an organization and how we continue the agility and resiliency of Bassett to meet the changing healthcare landscape will be very important,” he said.
He wants to continue to improve access to healthcare in this rural community and to take
a preventive approach to care.
“With the industry transforming before our eyes, it is a wonderful opportunity to use this time as a catalyst for reimagining how we take care of patients,” he said. “It is an exciting time and a great opportunity for us to advance healthcare in new ways.”
► “MAN ON MISSION”
Integris’ website contains a 2019 news release congratulating Ibrahim when he was nominated as one of Modern Healthcare magazine’s 50 Most Influential Clinical Leaders.
The release calls him “young, a bit of an overachiever and a man on a mission.”
Ibrahim’s parents – a mechanical engineer and a businesswoman – were born and
raised in Egypt, but emigrated to New Jersey. There, they had two sons, Ibrahim and his younger brother, who now practices family medicine in Chicago, the release states.
The older son’s interest in medicine came after an unspecified “significant accident” when he was 16, he said in the release.
“It was one of those experiences that helps you appreciate life a lot more,” he was quoted as saying. “I’ve always had a deep connection to helping others but wasn’t quite clear on how I was going to fulfill my passion until I had my own experience as a patient.” He attended a 5-year medical school program in Cambridge, England, immediately after high school, graduating at 23.
Integris called Ibrahim’s leadership there “transformational” and said he was “elevating the tenor” of its entire system.
Though Ibrahim is a practicing hospitalist, he opted to go into administration because he felt he could have greater impact there.
“As a physician, I see 16 to 20 patients a day and could make that impact daily,” he said in the release. “As chief physician executive, I can have a positive impact on close to 2,000 patients a day.”
Ibrahim will succeed a local legend: Dr. Streck, an endocrinologist who arrived here in the late 1970s, was Bassett Hospital president/CEO by 1984, and spent the next 30 years building a single hospital in the multi-county system the new president/CEO will inherit.
Retiring in 2014, Streck, now 72, joined HASNY, the Healthcare Association of New York State, as chief medical and health systems innovation officer. But when his successor, Dr. Vance Brown, resigned in March 2018, Streck was summoned back in an interim role as network president/CEO. The position of Bassett Hospital president was created at that time, filled by Dr. Bill LeCates.
At Integris, Ibrahim served as the physician executive in charge of leading the strategic direction for clinical services throughout the 19-hospital health system of owned and joint-venture assets, including all clinical operations, the physician enterprise, and system integration objectives. This position included direct responsibility for system research, graduate medical education and medical informatics.
“I am humbled,” said Ibrahim, “to become part of the Bassett family and to follow in the footsteps of the visionary leaders.”
In 2014-17, Ibrahim was chief physician officer and vice president of medical affairs at Mercy Health Network in Des Moines, Iowa. In 2010-14, he was senior vice president and chief physician executive at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Ill.
Ibrahim received his M.D. and bachelor of Medical Science degree in England and completed his Internal Medicine Residency at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, an academic affiliate of Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore, Md.
He holds a master of science degree in Health Administration from Seton Hall University. He received a graduate certificate in Organizational Behavior & Executive Coaching from the University of Texas, in Dallas, and was nominated to Modern Healthcare as one of the 50 Most Influential Clinical Leaders of 2019.
He is a practicing hospitalist and boarded in internal medicine and hospital medicine.
Ibrahim is also a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, fellow in Hospital Medicine, and received the Certified Physician Executive accreditation from the American Association of Physician Leadership.
Ibrahim’s accomplishments also include improving rural health care at Mercy Health Network through the successful implementation of telehealth programs for rural Iowa network hospitals, and improving access to residents in remote communities.
He has held board positions with Autism Oklahoma, Health Alliance for the Uninsured, and The Iowa Medical Education Collaborative, where he served as board chair from 2014-17. Founder of the J. Christian Autism Foundation, he was a Medical Missionary for International Medical Relief in 2016 and was a GI research assistant for the National Institutes of Health in 2009.
Ibrahim grew up in Jersey City. He said he came to Cooperstown with his father many years ago and spent summers on Lake George, so the region is familiar.
He and his wife Marian have two children, John-Christian, 10, and Sophia Haven, 5. They are looking forward to returning East and excited to call Cooperstown home.
“Outdoor galore!” Ibrahim said. “We are going to love the lake. I jet ski and hike and run. I can’t wait to spend my first summer here. It’s very exciting. I can’t wait to get started.”
By ELIZABETH COOPER • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – No new cases in a week in Otsego County.
No hospitalizations at Bassett facilities either.
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.
That’s where Otsego County’s COVID-19 numbers are right now.
The Tuesday, May 5, data from the county Health Department showed, for the first time, no new cases for the past five days.
Of the 62 total cases found in the county since March 23, 57 had recovered and four had succumbed to the virus. The one remaining patient is hospitalized.
County Public Health Director Heidi Bond pronounced the numbers “great news,” but said that the virus is still circulating in surrounding counties and new cases are being reported.
To the north in Herkimer County, for example, there are still 18 active cases, though no one is currently hospitalized.
Bond expressed optimism about careful reopening in the near future.
“As a region we do not yet meet the criteria to open up,” she said. “Our region may meet the criteria by the 15th and then we will open utilizing guidance put out by the state and the CDC.”
That doesn’t mean this ordeal is over, she cautioned. “I don’t think anyone should think we are out of the woods yet.”
Governor Cuomo has designated May 15 as the end of his “New York PAUSE” period in which statewide social distancing measures must be in place. After the 15th, some regions may be allowed to slowly reopen under strict guidelines.
He announced Friday, May 1, that schools across the state will not reopen this year.
At Bassett Healthcare Network’s flagship hospital in Cooperstown, doctors are awaiting the go-ahead to begin outpatient and elective surgeries in earnest.
Under New York PAUSE, such surgeries had been put on hold statewide so that hospitals could free up beds for the possible wave of COVID-19 patients, but most of those beds were never needed. Without those procedures, revenue is being lost and staff is being affected.
Cuomo announced last week that hospitals in some counties could resume the surgeries, but Otsego was not on the list. Even facilities in Herkimer County, with its larger number of COVID cases, was allowed to start up again. Some of those facilities are even in Bassett’s network, like Little Falls Hospital.
Bassett Hospital President William LeCates said it’s likely that Otsego County didn’t make the list because there are fewer intensive care beds here.
“Bassett has the only intensive care beds in Otsego County,” he said. “They want to make sure that we have plenty of intensive care beds at any point in time in case a recurrence of COVID occurs.”
Such recurrences have happened in other areas, and hospitals everywhere need to be prepared, he said. Bassett would need to be able to provide beds for COVID cases, as well as seriously ill patients and elective surgery patients if a sudden resurgence occurred.
LeCates said Bassett has that capacity and has now submitted its evidence to the state.
“I think we have a very favorable case that we are well prepared to do all aspects of care for our population,” he said.
LeCates said the community has reason to be cautiously optimistic about reopening.
“One measurement of success is the low number of positive cases we see in Otsego County,” he said.
Those low numbers reflect the very careful attention people in our communities are paying to social distancing,” he said. “It can be very difficult and a burden for businesses and for people’s social practices, but it has brought us success.”
And if the virus does come back here?
“We have learned a great deal about it and will be better prepared,” Lecates said. “Researchers and doctors are learning more about the disease every day, and communities now have experience with working together in a health crisis.
“There’s a strong partnership between Otsego County, our hospital system and local organizations, employers and schools. I think that close partnership is so important in our ability to respond to situations that haven’t happened yet.”
By ELIZABETH COOPER • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – As COVID-19 cases slow and the virus appears more contained, Bassett Hospital is beginning to start the process of returning to a new version of normalcy.
“We realized that things that could be put off for a few weeks can no longer be deferred,” said Dr. William LeCates, hospital president. “What was elective for a week or two is often not
for two to three months.”
All elective surgeries had been canceled by state order to make those beds available for COVID-19 patients and out of fear other patients would catch the virus.
However, with Bassett’s COVID-19 numbers declining for the second week in a row, Governor Cuomo said last week that he will soon allow elective surgeries to start again in areas like Otsego County, where there are few COVID patients.
He has yet to issue the executive order that would trigger that change, but the hospital is already choosing to let certain postponed surgeries move forward, LeCates said.
Procedures to address very slow-moving cancers were delayed but may start again, as might surgeries related to chronic pain, he said.
Decisions as to whether to proceed with surgeries are being made carefully by the patient’s doctors.
“We look at each individual patient and the needs of that person,” LeCates said.
Because of the reduction in non-COVID patient visits, Bassett had reallocated some staff to coronavirus-related work. Other staff whose workloads have decreased have been asked to take some of their paid vacation for now.
As the surgeries gradually start up again, those employees will return to their regular jobs and schedules, LeCates said.
The hospital will continue to observe strict precautions as it returns to its previous rhythm, he said.
Those entering the hospital may find themselves having their temperatures taken and patients undergoing procedures may have COVID tests to ensure that other patients and hospital staff are safe.
Positive results for the virus that causes COVID-19 now hover at less than 5 percent of those tested said LeCates.
On Tuesday, April 28, Otsego County Health Department data show the county has had 61 confirmed cases of the disease, and of those 46 have recovered.
Fire trucks from Cooperstown area companies descended on the corner of Fair Street and Atwell Road – the middle of Bassett Hospital’s campus – at 6:30 p.m. this evening, sirens sounding and horns blowing, in tribute to Bassett Hospital employees who have been on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus. About 100 staffers from the ER, security and other departments poured out onto the lawn, ignoring the wind and freezing temperatures, to accept accolades, some carrying posters to salute the firefighters in return. The tribute was proposed by Cooperstown Fire Chief Jim Tallman and Fly Creek Chief Chris Vuolo, and coordinated by Victor Jones, assistant director of Otsego County Emergency Services. Middlefield and Richfield Springs also participated. Inset photo, Chief Vuolo and Fly Creek Assistant Chief Jess Lanza unrolled a banner honoring our Healthcare Heroes. Not to be outdone, Jan Calhoun, top photo, hoisted a placard honoring firefighters and EMTs in return. Among her companions are, far left, Izees Abdallah, and, immediately to Jan’s right, Katie Kraham of Cherry Valley. Click photos to see them full size. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
By ELIZABETH COOPER • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Rates of positive COVID-19 cases in the Bassett Healthcare Network’s eight-county region, including Otsego, are starting to come down.
In the past week, 6-8 percent of tests taken across the Bassett Network’s region were positive.
That’s down from 10 percent the week before.
In an interview Tuesday, April 21, Bassett Network CEO Bill Streck said there are several possible reasons, one being that the stay-at-home order mandated by Governor Cuomo is working.
Another is that the disease is following its natural course and is now past its apex.
Without more testing, it is impossible to know how far the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, has penetrated the community as a whole. Until that is better understood, people must remain vigilant.
“We have to continue to emphasize that social distancing and handwashing and all these hygiene practices are critical to all of us,” Streck said.
Across the nation, some demonstrators have emerged to protest stay-at-home orders states have implemented since the coronavirus arrived in the United States. Here, there have been no demonstrations, but county board Chairman David Bliss said he has gotten numerous calls from business owners asking when things will change.
“The majority (of his callers) are anxious to get back to, not normal, but to work on the path to get to the new normal,” Bliss said. “I think we need to be preparing to move in that direction.”
Like Streck, Bliss said that even if there is a gradual reopening of work places, people will likely have to continue with the masks, hand-washing and staying 6-feet away from others whenever they can.
The speed and steps to reopen will be determined by Cuomo, and may allow Upstate to move more quickly than the harder hit downstate areas.
Just 200 miles away, New York City has some of the highest rates of positive cases in the world. To date, there are more than 247,000 positive cases there, and more than 14,300 people have died since the beginning of March.
In Otsego County, as distinct from the eight-county region, there were 55 positive cases of coronavirus as of Monday, and of those 31 have recovered and are off isolation. Three people were hospitalized and four people had died.
The number of people on mandatory quarantine has dropped significantly from a high of 113 two weeks ago to just 25.
According to a federal blueprint for reopening, regions must show that the illness is in decline and hospitals must be able to show that they can treat non-COVID patients without jeopardizing their safety.
Streck said our area is on the way to being able to do both.
But the blueprint also requires there to be adequate testing capacity and tracking for COVID cases. We are not there yet, he said.
Testing capacity for active COVID infection has expanded dramatically here in recent weeks, but results can take several days to get back.
Bassett is on a waiting list to get a new type of test that will give results in minutes. Harder hit areas are getting those first, Streck said.
Also, we don’t yet have the equipment to test for antibodies, so researchers can determine who might have been exposed or had an asymptomatic case of the illness.
Such tests would enable the county Health Department trackers to see how far the virus had penetrated and how many people might be immune. The immune tests may be available here as soon as next week, he said.
For Bassett, the region’s low numbers may bring a gradual return to normalcy.
With the elimination of all elective surgeries, the hospital has seen far fewer non-COVID patients than usual. About 50,000 patients were seen in March, but that’s about one-third the usual traffic in the Network, Streck said.
The hospital has been reducing hours for certain employees to offset financial losses related to the reduced patient visits, but said that may change. The state is likely to allow elective surgeries again in areas like ours, where the virus has not progressed as far.
“We will bring people back as quickly as we can ramp up,” Streck said. “That will depend on how busy we become.”
Some parts of the Network have been converted to take in a possible influx of COVID patients, but the surge never happened and those areas may now be returned to their original function. It would take about 10 days from the day Cuomo authorizes such changes for the Network to adjust.
Then, it will be a question of how soon patients feel confident they can return without endangering themselves, he said. The Network has worked hard since the virus threat became apparent to make its spaces safe for non-COVID patients and that would continue, Streck said.
ALBANY – In daily briefing, Governor Cuomo announced today that elective outpatient treatments can resume in counties and hospitals without significant risk of COVID-19 surge in the near term.
Hospitals will be able to resume performing elective outpatient treatments next Monday if the hospital capacity is over 25 percent for the county and if there have been fewer than 10 new hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in the county over the past 10 days.
Asked about the governor’s announcement, Bassett spokesperson Karen Huxtable-Hooker said, “We are working toward beginning elective surgeries in approximately two weeks, IF the current trends continue and we meet the criteria as outlined in the governor’s announcement.”
By ELIZABETH COOPER • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – National Guard troops will not be taking ventilators from upstate hospitals for use in downstate hospitals hit hard by the coronavirus.
In an executive order signed Tuesday, April 7, Governor Cuomo backtracked on statements made Friday about issuing an executive order to requisition medical supplies, including 20 percent of unused ventilators, and having the National Guard help ensure compliance.
Instead, he issued an executive order that hospitals provide an inventory of such equipment and that the state “may shift any such items not currently needed, or needed in the short-term future by a healthcare facility to be transferred to a facility in urgent need.”
The deal was brokered over the weekend by the Healthcare Association of New York State, said Bassett Healthcare CEO Bill Streck, who was HANYS director of innovation before returning to the Basset helm.
“Before any ventilators are moved from Upstate to downstate a conver-sation would be had with hospitals
to make sure the number submitted today was still an appropriate number,” said Bassett Healthcare CEO
Bill Streck said.
“We want to make sure that those of us who are able to help can do so,” he said. “That has to be balanced against the assessment of local and regional needs.”
The initial announcement sent shockwaves through Upstate communities that feared the lifesaving equipment wouldn’t be available if local people became ill with the virus.
Upstate politicians mounted a surge of opposition to the plan, with Congressman Antonio Delgado, D-19, and Otsego County Assemblymen John Salka and Chris Tague issuing statements decrying the idea.
Over the weekend, there were negotiations over how to balance the intense need in New York City and surrounding counties, which account for more than half the 138,000 positive cases, against ensuring there would be enough equipment Upstate as the virus spreads.
Cuomo’s compromise “strikes the right balance, said HANYS President Bea Grause in a prepared statement. “Our hospitals are protecting their local community members while doing everything they can to save
lives throughout the state.”
Locally, that means that Bassett Healthcare Network and others serving area communities will have enough equipment to meet its needs, at least for now.
Otsego County Board of Representatives Chairman Dave Bliss said if state officials called for local ventilators, “Healthcare leaders will inform the board and we will collectively take necessary actions to ensure the levels of service required for the residents of our region.”
Institutions that sent equipment downstate would either have equipment returned or be reimbursed. In recent days the state has also gotten ventilators from Oregon, Washington State, California and even China.
By ELIZABETH COOPER • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Nine days ago there were no Coronavirus patients among people who called Otsego County home.
As of Tuesday, March 31, there were 16. And one of those, Brenda Utter of Morris, has died.
Patients range in age from 20 to 75, county health officials said. There are 53 people more on mandatory quarantine because they have been in close contact with a positive case.
As the state’s numbers have climbed to the highest in the nation – some 75,000 as of Tuesday, March 31 – doctors at Bassett Healthcare Network have been anxiously preparing for an onslaught of patients here.
Though our numbers are growing, they have not leaped as high as feared.
“We are able to manage the patients that are coming in and need to be cared for,” Dr. Steven Heneghan, Bassett’s Network chief clinical officer, who is overseeing the network’s clinical response to the virus.
The precautionary measures the public is taking, along with Bassett’s triage system, are working, he said. But he cautioned that the picture could still change.
“We are expecting the worst and preparing for the worst,” he said. “And we are hoping for the best.”
Bassett Healthcare Network has given about 500 tests in its eight-county region, and of those about 10 percent are positive, Network officials said. That stands in stark contrast with parts of New York City, where that number is as high as 65 percent.
“I am not saying everything is over and everything is fine,” Heneghan said. “What I am saying is that everything people are doing is working and keep it up.”
Even though the county’s numbers are still small, the death of a single resident holds significance for the entire community, as well as the hospital, Dr. Bill LeCates, Bassett Hospital president, said in an interview.
For instance, Phillip Utter, husband of Brenda Utter, 63, of Morris, the county’s first victim, told his wife he loved her as she entered Bassett Monday, March 23.
Prevented from being with her by measures designed to protect the community, “It was the last thing I told her,” the husband said. Brenda died Thursday, March 26.
Hospital staff did keep in constant contact, letting him know all her ups and downs, and he is thankful to them for their kindness, he said.
LeCates said he could not speak about specific cases, but that the COVID crisis is taking a toll on medical staff.
“Everyone here at the medical center shares in the difficulty of this illness, and the sadness and difficulty that comes to people who are separated from their family members, especially at times like the end of life,” he said.
“We recognize how difficult this is for everyone. For the families and people who are hospitalized and the staff who are caring for these patients. It is a tremendously difficult aspect of this pandemic that people are separated at their time of greatest need.”
The stress on patients and their families is always felt deeply by hospital staff as they do their work, but with the coronavirus it’s worse. Because of the danger of spreading contagion, family members of those with the virus are not able to be with their loved ones who are hospitalized.
So far, Heneghan said, the hospital can handle the number of cases coming in.
“Our population had enough warning to use handwashing and social distancing,” he said. “It is proof of what other countries have shown us, that this is an effective way to reduce the spread.”
The network’s video conferencing system has enabled many of the patients to remain in their homes when they are sick, and at the moment “most are doing quite well and recovering,” he said.
“Of course not everyone has a quick recovery,” he added. “We are managing ill patients in the hospital.”
He declined to say how many COVID inpatients the network was treating, only that the number was “relatively small” and holding steady.
The hospital also has more than enough ventilators for the number of patients they are seeing now. They also have enough masks and face shields at the moment.
But, he cautioned that the picture could change.
There is an incubation period during which patients may not realize they are sick, when they may infect others as the go about their daily lives.
Also, the disease progression takes more than a week, and people with manageable symptoms in the beginning could take a decided turn for the worse and need to be hospitalized.
Heneghan said general statistics on COVID-19 show that for every 100 patients, 10 need hospitalization and five must go to the ICU.
He does not see COVID patients inside the hospital, but he does meet with patients being treated at home via the network’s video conferencing system.
►ENOUGH TESTS ON HAND
Heneghan said Bassett has enough tests right now to test people practitioners think might have the disease.
“We are not limited,” he said. “If we feel someone should have the test we will do a test.”
He encouraged anyone who believes they might have the virus to seek an evaluation, and to stay away from others until a determination is made.
“Other countries have had good results with that system,” he said.
►HUG THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE
For Phillip Utter the virus has already taken a heavy toll.
Asked what others could learn from his experience he recommended following the warnings of health officials and practicing social distancing as much as possible.
“You don’t ever know,” he said. “You could be the next one, you know. It has certainly proven that it isn’t just a downstate thing. It’s everywhere. It’s all over. You can’t be too careful.”