Despite the chilling toll – 3,483 COVID-19 cases and 54 deaths – Otsego County people, our neighbors, friends and family, have a lot to be proud of as we ended The Year of The Pandemic on Monday, March 15, we found in revisiting the last 52 editions of this newspaper.
Throughout, there was worry, dismay and grief in the face of the implacable and mysterious foe, but little panic. In reviewing the newspapers, there was, and is, much determination, focus and purpose among our neighbors and our community leaders.
At the county level, board Chairman David Bliss promptly issued an emergency declaration on Friday, March 15, 2020, that outlined many of the steps that have marked our lives since then. Going forward from there, the county board was tough and visionary in the face of disappearing sales- and bed-tax revenues.
The reps laid off 59 FTEs, no fun for anyone. Then – guided by county Treasurer Allen Ruffles – they assembled a plan based on historically low-interest loans and fast-tracking roadwork, which the state CHIPS program still reimburses, to ensure solvency. When President Biden’s $11 million stimulus allocation was announced in recent days, it was appreciated at 197 Main, but not essential.
On a parallel track, county Health Department rallied under Public Health Director Heidi Bond, doing the COVID testing and contact tracing that – along with masks and social distancing – have been central in controlling the disease to the extent we have.
She was already heralded as this newspaper’s 2020 Citizen of the Year, but not enough appreciation can be expressed to her team’s hard work and accomplishment.
“The Taliban likes to attack on holidays,” said Dr. Joon K. Shim, who arrived at Bassett Hospital Jan. 26 as a surgeon, as well as program director of the Columbia-Bassett Residency, training young doctors.
She heard “a huge ‘kaboom’” – a mortar attack. “I was on the floor with my face to the ground. I thought I would die that day,” said the physician, who was serving one of three deployments in Afghanistan.
But duty called in the form of an injured soldier, and she was soon back at the operating table.
“He held my hand and said, ‘Dr. Shim, I want to live’,” she remembered. Later, he had the opportunity to tell her, “Thank you for saving my life.”
She’s not the only Bassett physician to experience war. Dr. Shelby Cooper, a Navy lieutenant commander, was deployed to Afghanistan. So was the hospital’s president, Dr. Bill LeCates, who also serves as state surgeon for the New York State National Guard.
Still, on active duty for three deployments, in 2011, 2012 and 2013, Dr. Shim’s story, as she told it in a recent interview, is like an action thriller, beginning when – a recent Bryn Mawr, magna cum laude philosophy major – 9/11 happened.
HAMDEN – Thomas Dominic Parrotti, 72, passed away following complications from COVID-19 at 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021.
He was born on May 12, 1948 in Binghamton, and was raised there by his mother Dorothy “Dottie” (Chervenka) and Dominic Parrotti. After high school Thomas studied at the Traphagen School of Fashion in New York City.
Thom worked in many professions over the years, including owning his own clothing store and interior design business. He worked for the former mayor of Binghamton, Juanita Crabb; together they brought in the Binghamton Mets Stadium.
BURLINGTON – Linda Winsor, a Native Daughter of Cooperstown and former resident of the Town of Burlington, passed away Saturday night, Feb. 6, 2021, at her home in Bloomfield, near Canandaigua, following a valiant battle with cancer. She was 69.
Born March 14, 1951, at Bassett Hospital, Linda was a daughter of Mason E. and Wanda J. (Colburn) Tiffany. Raised in the Burlington area, she attended Edmeston Central School.
COOPERSTOWN – 75 percent of Bassett Hospital’s supply of the Moderna vaccine has been administered to employees, spokesman Karen Huxtable-Hooker said this morning, up from 30 percent earlier this week.
The Pfizer vaccine has also been administered to some employees, she said.
I wish I had the time, stamina, and column inches to write an article daily. That’s how fast the news is coming.
Since last week, Pfizer has begun distribution and vaccinations around the nation, the Moderna vaccine has been approved and it will start distribution by the time you read this, with inoculations going into arms probably by Thursday the 24th.
The 350 Tier One healthcare workers from Bassett Healthcare will have been inoculated, though they all had to travel to either Utica or Elmira to receive the network’s allotted doses, according to a Bassett spokesman. They will get the Pfizer vaccine.
According to the Governor, we can expect more doses in the weeks ahead.
All I want for Christmas is my two vaccines.
There have been some surprises with the roll out. It seems some five dose vials of the Pfizer vaccine actually contain six doses. On the other hand, the logistics have not gone quite as well as we were told to expect. I guess that’s not a surprise.
In the United States, the priority for the order of who gets the vaccine has been announced.
Tier One-A is front-line healthcare workers and nursing home residents and staff.
Tier One-B is essential workers.
Tier One-C is high risk individuals which includes those over 60 or 65 depending on their state of residence and those with other risk factors.
After that I am not sure but it seems to be everyone else lumped together. It is not clear when and if minors will get the vaccinations, since they haven’t been tested in those under 16.
There has been some controversy over the 1-B group, not so much if essential workers should get it next, but who is an essential worker.
Overall, there are probably more than 20-30 million people in this category in the United States: police, fire, EMS, teachers, other healthcare workers who interact with the general public, grocery store workers, food processing plant workers, certain other government employees, and many others.
As someone with eight risk factors and counting, I am willing to wait my turn for most of these, but unfortunately there will be some who get moved up the list but probably don’t deserve it.
For example, an attorney friend of mine in New Jersey says they are classified as essential workers.
Shakespeare would definitely not agree. Neither do I. Some yes, but all of them? Corporate attorneys who haven’t been in a courtroom in decades and only represent clients who can pay them more than $500/hour?
There are other vaccines coming out soon. Janssen/ Johnson & Johnson, AstroZenica/Oxford, and Novavax are among those in stage three testing in the USA that may be able to get FDA approval.
China and Russia have both approved their own vaccines and are inoculating people at home and overseas.
The entire United Arab Emirates’ Tour de France winning cycling team has been inoculated with the Chinese Sinopharma vaccine.
Hopefully the vaccines from outside North America and Europe will also generate honest, reproducible data. We need every dose that can be produced that works. There are seven billion people in the world and frankly most of them would benefit by being vaccinated.
In the meantime, we can decrease deaths and slow down progression of the disease with the same simple methods that I have been advocating for nine months. (Yes, it’s that long.) Wear a mask, socially distance, don’t get lackadaisical just because you know some else well.
My god-daughter and her husband both contracted it from their 11-month-old. All are well. We just lost an Otsego citizen who caught COVID from a group home worker who contracted it at a Thanksgiving dinner.
Small group, known people. But someone died because of it. We are so close, people: Stay the course (and any other cliché you can think of).
Merry Christmas and I wish everyone a New Year that at least begins to approach sanity.
Dr. Anush Patel, Bassett Hospital’s chief of medical oncology and radiology, expressed relief on receiving the first of his two Pfizer vaccinations.
“This is the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Patel was one of 350 Tier One Bassett employees who received the Pfizer vaccine last Saturday through Monday at Arnot Ogden Medical Center, Elmira, and Faxton-St. Luke’s Campus, Utica.
“People were overwhelmingly excited to receive the vaccine,” said Karen Huxtable-Hooker, Bassett Healthcare Network spokesman. “It’s energizing health care workers; for them it means the beginning of the end.”
Tier One healthcare employees are staff members in clinical and nonclinical patient-care areas considered to be of high exposure, according to the state, including emergency room and Intensive Care Unit employees.
Some 170,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were shipped across New York State this week and received by Bassett’s Tier One employees.
Going forward, however, Bassett has opted for the Moderna vaccine, which has a similar efficacy against COVID-19, but doesn’t require the extreme refrigeration the Pfizer one does.
“Because it doesn’t need the ultra-cold storage like the Pfizer vaccine, (Moderna) is easier to store and transport throughout our region, so we can reach more patients in our service area,” said Kelly Rudd, PharmD, the Bassett Network’s pharmacy director.
Although Arnot Ogden and Faxton-St. Luke’s are not in the Bassett Network, they are medical campuses designated by New York State as regional hubs for initial vaccine administration.
“We have been able to help them and they were able to help us; this really takes everybody working together,” Huxtable-Hooker said.
“We are proud to be part of the state’s efforts to vaccinate front-line healthcare workers as we move through the vaccination distribution phases outlined by the CDC,” said Jonathan Lawrence, Arnot president/CEO. “We look forward to working with hospitals in our region to achieve the goal of vaccinating as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, in our efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.”
According to Huxtable-Hooker, all five Bassett Network hospitals have received their first allotment of the Moderna vaccine and vaccinations of Tier One staff will begin this week.
“Schedules for inoculating staff are in development,” she added.
Those that have already received the Pfizer vaccine at one of the two locations in Utica or Elmira will be returning to those sites to receive the booster for the vaccine after three weeks.
Those that will receive the Moderna vaccine will return for their booster after 28 days.
And with 350 staff members on their way to completing the vaccination process against COVID-19, Heidi Bond, Otsego County public health director, says she hopes this will speed up the timeline for getting the vaccine to the public.
“Hopefully the vaccine will begin to come at a fast pace,” she said. “We can vaccinate our front-line healthcare workers, then increase out to the next tier and vaccinate other essential workers.”
Bassett’s attending physician of infectious diseases, Dr. Charles Hyman, suggested last week that the public will likely not have access to the vaccine until the end of April, but adds that planning as to how best to distribute it is already underway.
COOPERSTOWN – Six Tier One Bassett employees elected to receive the Moderna vaccine in Bassett Hospital’s Clark Auditorium this morning.
Housekeeper Eddie Cook, among the six, was “excited and a little nervous” about receiving the vaccine. “If it helps stop the spread and will keep his wife safe,” he said, “I am happy to do it – I will be glad when the vaccine is widely available.”
The other five were: Dr. Lewis Brinton IV, Fly Creek, an emergency-room doctor at Little Falls Hospital; Keith Velasco, Milford, nursing associate; Suzanne Evans, Cooperstown, surgical resident; Liz Burns, Oneonta, R.N., and Dr. Travis Hodgdon, Cooperstown, critical-care physician at Bassett.
The vaccines were administered by Kelly Rudd, Bassett Health Network’s chief of pharmacy, as well as Michele Taurisano, Utica, and Allen Light, Westmoreland.
With the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine just days away from a likely approval, Bassett Hospital is prepping to give the first vaccination to one of its healthcare workers as the New Year starts.
“It will be a celebration by our organization,” said Dr. Kelly Rudd, Clinical Pharmacy technician. “It’s a way to celebrate the beginning of the end of the pandemic.”
Though 170,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were shipped across New York State this week, Bassett has opted for the Moderna vaccine, which has similar efficiency against COVID-19, but requires less refrigeration.
“Because it doesn’t need the ultra-cold storage like the Pfizer vaccine, it’s easier to store and transport throughout our region so we can reach more patients in our service area,” said Rudd.
According to news reports, 346,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine will be distributed by the state Department of Health, the first going to “high risk” hospitals and nursing home patients.
“We submitted our total number of employees to the state,” Rudd said. “We’re not anticipating that the whole supply will come in one shipment, so we’re working on stratification, determining who is in the closest proximity to COVID patients, age, who is at the highest risk with underlying conditions, so we can vaccinate them first.”
The Moderna vaccine, like Pfizer’s, is given in two doses, 28 days apart. “One of the things we have to look at is how to structure those vaccinations,” said Rudd. “If one of our healthcare workers begins showing symptoms, we want to be able to monitor to see if it is because they are sick or if it’s side effects, so we don’t want to vaccinate everyone at once.”
Though not made up of the live COVID virus, the vaccine can cause similar side effects, including fevers, chills and joint pain for a few days after the shot is administered.
After all “high-risk” people are vaccinated, the second tier is “essential” workers, such as county Public Health Director Heidi Bond.
However, it could be several months before the vaccine is ready for the public, Rudd said.
“People need to know that they’re not going to get it for Christmas,” said Dr. Charles Hyman, attending physician, Infectious Diseases.
But when the vaccine is available to the public – Hyman suggests end of April – plans are beginning to form about how to get it out to the public.
‘OneBassett” is here, Network President/CEO Tommy Ibrahim announced Friday, Dec. 11, and it will lead Bassett Healthcare Network to profitability after four years in the red.
In an interview, Ibrahim said the reorganization of the eight-county system that began when he arrived in June from Integris Health Systems in Oklahoma is largely complete. Still, “we’re in the first stages of transformation,” he said. “Now the real work begins.”
As an example of where the 5,200-job organization is going, he cited Human Resources, which has unified all network hiring at www.bassett.org/careers, under the direction of Melanie Craig, Human Resources, Employment & Employee Relations.
Click through, and you can quickly find out about all jobs available in the system.
Until now, he said, there have been “five hospitals with five different levels of quality, service, efficiency and costs.”
As with the Human Resources piece, fully implementing the new concept is going to require broadband to be fully implemented, and Ibrahim said he’s received “encouraging news” through Congressman Antonio Delgado’s office that greater funding for that will be forthcoming.
Friday’s announcement included details of a reorganization into a North Region (Bassett and Little Falls hospitals) and a South Region (Cobleskill, Fox in Oneonta and O’Connor in Delhi).
A “System Executive Leadership Team” will administer each: North led by Bassett Hospital President Bill LeCates; South by Cobleskill Regional Hospital President Eric Stein.
Each team has three vice presidents – for operations, medical affairs and nursing – that report to LeCates or Stein, and implement a horizontal management structure aimed at achieving consistent levels of expertise across the region.
This is in addition to a Leadership Team announced over the past few months, led by Ibrahim and including CFO Paul Swinko, COO Jeff Joyner, LeCates and others.
The announcement also included eliminating 41 positions by March, in addition to 15 leadership positions that have already been eliminated in the restructuring. A network-wide program called SCORE (Securing Career Opportunities for Redeployed Employees) will seek to find places for those employees in the new structure.
The network executives will be taking 5-10 percent “voluntary reductions” in pay, with Ibrahim himself taking a 20-percent pay cut.
This, of course, has caused consternation among employees, but Ibrahim is striving to move forward with “compassion, dignity and respect” toward employees who, through the reorganization, are being shifted out of their jobs.
As part of this effort, a seven-page, single-spaced FAQ was emailed to employees Monday, Dec. 15, seeking to allay concerns and detailing available options.
With the reorganization and streamlining, Ibrahim said, the hospital network is aiming to “break even” in 2021, and a return to profitability after that. He said the network has operated in the red for the past four years.
Asked if the restructuring of the network from hospital-centric “silos” to a cross-network system based on areas of medical expertise was one of his successes as chief physician at Integris, he said yes. But similar approaches are being implemented in all successful hospital systems across the country, he added.
As COVID numbers continue to rise throughout the county, Dr. William LeCates, Bassett Hospital president, says that the hospital is prepared for the demand.
“We have the ability to expand recovery areas,” he said in an interview. “Hospitals have to have these plans in place. We’re seeing an increasing number of community members become ill, and it’s not unexpected that some portion of them will need hospitalizations.”
Some are admitted in the ER and test positive at the hospital. Others had tested positive, and then got sick enough to require admission. Eight people have died since March; as of Tuesday, Dec. 8, 18 people were currently hospitalized, up from eight from the Tuesday before, and 13 over the weekend, with one in the ICU.
“We’re at higher numbers than we were last month,” he said. “And last month was higher than the month before, and based on the trends, we’re going to see cases continue to further increase in the region.”
Plans are constantly shifting, and the hospital is in constant contact with the county and state Health Departments over what to do if cases explode.
LeCates said that, for example, if one hospital in the eight-county Network gets overloaded with COVID patients, some are sent to another hospital to open up space. “We can work through our own network,” he said.
But LeCates warned that the hospital soon could face other issues, including closing for non-essential surgeries, if people continue to not wear masks or gather in bars.
“I think all of us have an opportunity to lessen the rise in the community,” he said. “Further increases could be blunted by cautions of things we’re taking for granted. We’ll look back and find this to have been a very important moment for all of us.”
At present, the hospital only has a “limited supply” of rapid tests, and CVS pharmacies and the WellNow Clinic in Oneonta are often booked. There are several Bassett testing “tents” throughout the county, including at the FoxCare Center and in Bassett’s back parking lot, but LeCates said there are no plans to increase the number of tents.
Appointments can be made by calling the COVID hotline, (607) 547-5555.
But the results can take between two and four days to come back, with one patient reportedly waiting 11 anxious days for their results.
In November, Bassett had to close the Fox Nursing Home and all hospitals, including Fox and Bassett, to visitors except for a primary caretaker or parent.
“We know the value of visitation with family and loved ones is important,” he said. “And it was a difficult decision. But these rising cases present a high risk for spreading COVID, so it was necessary to restrict visiting.”
LeCates is hopeful, however, that he will soon hear from the state on when they will receive the first rounds of vaccines. “We don’t have a date, type or amount yet,” he said. “But we’re making plans as best we can to receive it and administer the vaccine to staff.”
“All of us are looking to the end,” he said. “There’s a sense of fatigue, but there is also increasing promise, and that’s giving us hope.”