OLEAN, NY — The Cattaraugus County of Health has reported 12 cases of the coronavirus, according to Upper Allegheny Health System’s media update issued Wednesday. McKean County in Pennsylvania continues to report just one case, according to the release. 

However, due to a nationwide lack of COVID-19 testing, Dr William Mills, senior vice president of quality and professional affairs at UAHS, said these numbers most likely do not provide an accurate account of how many cases there are. 

“The lack of testing kits throughout the U.S. continues to be an issue and therefore, the lack of confirmed cases probably isn’t a true measure of COVID-19 activity in our communities,” Mills wrote in the update.  “Therefore, it is important for our patients and residents to practice social distancing, stay home, practice good hand hygiene, etc., to prevent the spread of this virus.” 

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According to the update, three COVID-19 patients are receiving treatment at Olean General Hospital; one of them has been placed in the intensive care unit.  

With no end of the COVID-19 pandemic near, Jeff Zewe, an RN who is president and CEO of UAHS, OMG and Bradford Regional Medical Center, said in the update that both hospitals continue to stay well prepared. And, Zewe noted, hospital volumes are down by 65 percent. 

“The low volumes are a direct reflection of the overall plan working," Zewe said. "The government, hospital, community leaders, EMS and community, at-large, continue to work together sending the consistent message that hand washing and social distancing is the cure. The message is being heard and followed as people are staying home and this is paying off with very few positive confirmed cases in Cattaraugus and McKean counties.”

Zewe emphasized, “The pandemic is far from over but from a medical standpoint we are beginning to see a glimmer of positive signs from the New York City area. Hospitalization rates are trending down as well as ICU usage, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.”

Mills added, “Our clinical staff is getting the extra training they need. While the financial strain with all this is significant, we’ve prepared for a surge in our local community. As a doctor, I’m concerned about people getting the healthcare they need. While we are preparing for extra volume, we want people to know we are still open for business if they really need us.” 

Intensivist Jeremy Barnett, an MD, has been running that training program for Olean General and Bradford Regional for providers who could be called on to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients. As part of a COVID-19 boot camp, providers received hands-on training with crucial equipment used to treat COVID-19 patients, according to the release. 

“The “boot camp” included hands-on training, using ultrasound technology, updates in the use of ventilators, and specific treatment algorithms and protocols for the COVID-19 patient,” Mills wrote. “The boot camp was created and taught by Dr. Barnett with the help of the critical nurses from OGH. This two hour educational session was recorded for other providers to view as well.”

On Tuesday, Cuomo signed an executive order covering issues and state laws that help New York manage the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Under that executive order, equipment and supplies, such as ventilators, could be redistributed to other hospitals in New York State that are in urgent need of them, especially downstate hospitals. Cuomo has urged unity amongst all New York hospitals over the last few weeks.

According to the executive order:

“DOH may shift any such items not currently needed, or needed in the short term future by a health care facility, to be transferred to a facility in urgent need of such inventory, for purposes of ensuring New York hospitals, facilities and health care workers have the resources necessary to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and distribute them where there is an immediate need. The DOH shall either return the inventory as soon as no longer urgently needed and/or, in consultation with the Division of the Budget, ensure compensation is paid for any goods or materials acquired at the rates prevailing in the market at the time of acquisition, and shall promulgate guidance for businesses and individuals seeking payment.”

According to Mills and Zewe, all OGH equipment and supplies will remain in place until redistribution is needed. They stated in the update: “All equipment and supplies will remain in place until redeployment is needed. If – and only if – redeployment occurs, the state Department of Health (DOH) and the Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS) would work with providers to rapidly code and transport equipment. The sending hospital would be notified of the location of its ventilators when they reach their destination to facilitate a return. They are not taking the supplies now for stockpiling purposes; they are not taking 20 percent of our inventory now and sending it downstate.”

Mills and Zewe said having such a plan is an important, necessary measure. Bradford Regional Medical Center, as a Pennsylvania hospital, is not a part of the plan.

“Having a collaborative plan like this ensures that equipment and supplies (like ventilators) are available for everyone, regardless of geography. And they only move when an urgent need arises. That could be in Buffalo, the Southern Tier, in Niagara County or anywhere else in New York state. It all depends on the surge or apex that may occur in a community or region. Again, no equipment has moved from Olean General Hospital to this point and it may well be that equipment will not move in the days and weeks ahead.” 

In a follow-up to the update, in response to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive order regarding the sharing of supplies among Pennsylvania’s hospitals and health systems, Zewe stated that Wolf's order looked "very similar" to that made by Cuomo.

"We will of course share our data as we learn more," Zewe said. "But, as in New York, we have not been asked to share equipment of any kind, nor do we expect to send equipment to other areas of the state at this point.  Our prime responsibility is to protect the patients under our care.  Rural hospitals such as BRMC, operate on a much smaller scale than our metropolitan counterparts and therefore have much less to share.  We would expect that, as in New York, the movement of equipment would be much more voluntary than mandated.

For more information on the Coronavirus in the Greater Olean area, visit  TAPinto Greater Olean's Coronavirus Updates page, which is updated continuously.

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