Someone was remarking the other day that, over almost four decades, Otsego County had two key players that could be called upon in any crisis.
One, Bill Streck, Bassett Healthcare Network president/CEO since 1984, who spent years developing contacts in Albany. A Democrat, he was a go-to guy around here, someone who could call the Governor’s Office and expect an answer.
Two, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, who served in Albany from 1986 until this past Dec. 31, rising to leadership and maintaining it until the Senate shifted to the Democrats. Even then, he – like Streck – knew where the levers of power were and how to push them.
In the past year Streck, 74, and Seward, 69, both retired. In tackling the largest crisis in a century, which arguably the COVID-19 pandemic is, their departures left a void.
COOPERSTOWN – Bill Streck, who built Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital into today eight-county Bassett Health Network, has joined a national consulting firm, Canton & Company, Baltimore, as chief clinical officer.
The addition of Streck, who retired this summer as Bassett Network president/CEO, enhances “the firm’s capabilities in the areas of healthcare strategy, innovation and reform,” according to the company’s announcement.
“Having someone of his caliber is a huge complement to the outstanding leadership team already in place at our firm,” said Canton CEO Don McDaniel. “Our clients require multi-faceted perspectives and strategies; Dr. Streck enhances and elevates all of that with incredible clinical, industry, and policy expertise.”
COOPERSTOWN – Tommy Ibrahim, MD, MHA, Executive Vice President and Chief Physician Executive for Integris Health System, will succeed Bill Streck as president/CEO of the Bassett Healthcare Network, it was announced a few moments ago.
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.
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.
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.
COOPERSTOWN – Due to the demand for Coronavirus testing and extreme shortages worldwide, Bassett Healthcare Network today announced it is “prioritizing hospitalized patients for COVID-19 testing,” network President/CEO Bill Streck announced this morning.
In addition to limiting COVID-19 testing to “the most vulnerable, ” the network is “also postponing all non-essential medical, surgical and dental procedures,” Streck said. “These are extreme measures for an extraordinary time and it is still quite early in this pandemic. We must take action now.”
Bassett has several sites around the network set up for screening individuals who are concerned that their upper respiratory illness might be the coronavirus. Network Chief Clinical Officer Steven Heneghan, M.D., said those external evaluation areas will remain, but COVID-19 testing will not be available at those locations.
COOPERSTOWN – Dr. Bill Streck, Bassett Healthcare Network CEO, told the county’s Emergency Task Force Tuesday, March 17, that there’s still a shortage of Coronavirus test kits available locally.
Nonetheless, a lot of people have been swabbed at the testing tents set up outside Bassett facilities. “They are out there, and coming back slowly,” reported county Board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, who has been attending the task force meetings morning and afternoon for the past few days.
Streck “said he would not be surprised if some of them do come back positive,” said Bliss.
Still, Bliss and Task Force Chairman Allen Ruffles said, the hospital chief believes, “Things are going as well as can be expected.”
As of presstime, no cases of Coronavirus had surfaced in Otsego County, Bliss said. A Herkimer County case was being treated in Cooperstown.
Streck was meeting with the task force four days after calling a press conference at Bassett Hall, where he and three of his lieutenants, Drs. Bill LeCates, Bassett Hospital president; Steven Heneghan, clinical director, and Charles Hyman, infectious disease specialist, outlined Bassett’s protocol for tackling the disease.
The entrypoint for treatment, they said, was a newly established hotline, (607) 547-5555, that everyone with a cough, fever and other symptoms should call.
People will be reassured, or assigned to receive a swab test. Those results may lead to further evaluation. Bliss and Ruffles said many of those evaluation may be in people’s homes, via tele-medicine.
The idea is to keep people who may be infected out of the hospital, where they may spread the disease. To protect against that, on Monday Bassett also banned visitors from its hospitals.
Meanwhile, the hotline took off: More than 500 people placed calls on Monday alone. No numbers were available from Tuesday, but over the weekend, 200 people called on Saturday and 200 on Sunday.
“There is clearly a lot of demand for that phone line,” said Karen Huxtable-Hooker, Bassett spokesman. So much so that the healthcare network is looking to expand the number of staff fielding the calls.
As of Tuesday, more than 1,500 people in New York State had tested positive for the virus, up from 950 the day before; 814 of the cases were in the city. Twelve people have died from the virus in New York State, including at least seven in New York City.
About 20 percent of Bassett hotline callers are simply anxious and seeking information, and they are directed to the Bassett website or other sources that may answer their questions, Huxtable-Hooker said.
The majority of the calls are people with cold symptoms who are concerned they might have the virus. Staff questions each caller to determine their risk level, and if deemed necessary, they give them an appointment to go to one of the screening tents that have been set up at Bassett facilities. Those locations have the capacity to test for both the flu and to swab for COVID 19.
Flu tests can be processed by Basssett, but COVID 19 tests are sent to outside labs. Huxtable-Hooker could not immediately give statistics for how many COVID 19 tests had been sent out.
Individuals whose condition is more serious are routed to separate heated tents outside Bassett facilities, many of which are equipped with portable X-ray machines.
Most of those seen do not meet the risk criteria for the disease, Huxtable-Hooker said. She stressed that area residents should not go to the screening tents without first calling the hotline and getting an appointment.
Patients who are found to have the virus are sent home and must remain quarantined at home if they are not very ill. They can then be treated at home, in some cases remotely using electronic media, and only brought to a Bassett facility if it is deemed necessary.
The strategy is aimed at helping as many area residents as possible to determine if they have the virus, while protecting people with other health issues by minimizing the risk of bringing the virus into the hospital itself.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, Governor Cuomo gave a speech Tuesday sounding the alarm about the expanding scope of the COVID 19 crisis, and asked hospitals to seek ways of expanding their capacity to treat the sick ad to prepare for the worst.
“There is a curve, everyone’s talked about the height and the speed of the curve, and flattening the curve,” he said, referring to graphs seen in the media showing projected numbers of cases rising steeply past national hospital capacity. “I’ve said that curve is going to turn into a wave and is going to crash on the hospital system.”
He called on hospitals to come out of retirement to help with teh effort, and for medical students to roll up their sleeves and do what they can. Hospitals need to find room for more beds in their existing wards and locate additional spaces to expand into.
New York has 53,000 existing hospital beds and 3,000 intensive care unit beds but 19.5 million residents, he said. About 19 percent of those who become sick must be hospitalized.
Huxtable-Hooker said she believes Cuomo’s focus is largely on New York City, because it its population density. Nonetheless, she said, Bassett is expanding its bed capacity for isolation rooms to treat people with the virus.
“We have adequate physician support at this time,” she said. “Medical students at Bassett are assisting in follow-up calls to patients.
COVID 19 tests taken as part of the triage process related to the hotline have not yet come back from the outside labs, so there are no new findings to date, she said.
Congressman Antonio Delgado, D-19th, included three Otsego County representatives to a 19th Congressional District Health Care Advisory Committee he announced yesterday to advise him on “skyrocketing costs of healthcare and on healthcare legislation before the House.”
They are Bassett Healthcare Network President Bill Streck, Dr. Chris Kjolhede, director of Bassett’s School-Based Health Center Program, and Sue Smith, Otsego County Health Department deputy director.
COOPERSTOWN – Vance M. Brown, president/CEO of the Bassett Healthcare Network for almost four years, has decided to step down, effective April 20, it was announced today.
Former president/CEO Bill Streck, chief medical and health systems innovation officer at the Hospital Association of New York State (HASNY) since retiring from Bassett, will return to the organization in an interim role, the announcement said.
COOPERSTOWN – Retired Bassett Healthcare president Bill Streck says the American Health Care Act passed by the House of Representatives this afternoon is “a catastrophe for the American people.”
“The bill is a hodge-podge of agendas absent any coherent theme other than repealing the Affordable Care Act,” he said regarding this afternoon’s 217-213 vote. “The bill actually serves as a mechanism to prevent millions of Americans from obtaining health care.”
Streck, who since his retirement in 2014 has joined the Hospital Association of New York State (HANYS) as chief medical and health systems innovation officer, has kept the Cooperstown area apprised of the potential threats the ACHA presents to healthcare locally as the Obamacare repeal effort moved forward.
ONEONTA – U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, heard concerns of key local players in the national healthcare debate this afternoon, and the two sides appeared to politely disagree on a future course of action.
“We have fundamental concerns that it” – the Obamacare revision being revived in Congress – “will not be an improvement over the current ACA.” said Bill Streck, retired Bassett Healthcare president, now director of innovation for the state Hospital Association (HANYS). “From our analysis, 200-700 thousand people would be at risk along with healthcare in our region.”