Nurses who work at Saratoga and Glens Falls hospitals are seeing a stark difference in their work environment during the pandemic.
At Saratoga Hospital, patients are screened for coronavirus symptoms immediately — usually by phone before they enter the Emergency Department. If they are possible virus patients, they are treated only by medical providers who are wearing protective gear.
“’Enhanced droplet precaution’ PPE (personal protective equipment) at the point of arrival includes N95 masks, goggles or shields, gloves and gowns,” said spokesman Peter Hopper.
At Glens Falls Hospital, nurses are still wearing surgical masks. Those are generally used for infection control for droplet-borne illnesses like the flu, but nurses want the greater protection of the N95 masks, because the virus is so infectious and has no treatment.
Nurses who work at both locations are reporting that they will no longer volunteer for extra shifts at Glens Falls Hospital, because they prefer the greater precautions being taken at Saratoga Hospital.
While Saratoga Hospital is caring for five patients with confirmed coronavirus, Glens Falls Hospital does not yet have any patients who have tested positive. The hospital does have about a dozen patients considered to be “possible” coronavirus cases.
Glens Falls Hospital is not the only hospital in the state not giving out N95 masks. Several other hospitals in the New York City area are doing the same. They all cite the same issue: if they give out masks now, they won’t have enough to last for the entire crisis.
That is frustrating Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He wants every hospital to outfit its staff.
“Right now we do have enough PPE (personal protective equipment) for the immediate future. We have enough in stock for the immediate need,” he said. “We distribute it on an as-needed basis.”
He acknowledged that some hospitals want more reassurance than that.
“Hospitals tend to want to have supplies for a long period of time: a month out, three weeks out. We don’t have that ability,” he said.
Instead, the state can give them “a few days’ supply” at a time.
“I understand that makes them uncomfortable,” he said.
But he added that the state is continually buying more.
“We are buying it. We are buying it from China — we have people volunteering to take private planes to go to China and pick up materials,” he said.
Manufacturers are also gearing up to make more here.
So Cuomo is urging hospitals to use what they have now, and he will get them more when they need it.
Agnew said Glens Falls Hospital has asked for supplies repeatedly, without response. But the hospital has enough N95 masks for many days, which may be why it hasn’t gotten more.
“We distribute it on an as-needed basis. To say you need it in a week and a half? Frankly we have hospitals needing it today and tomorrow,” Cuomo said.
State officials are also calling hospitals when they see news reports of nurses not being outfitted with the proper safety equipment.
“We have assured them, if they don’t (have the equipment), we will get them what they need immediately,” said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor.
Agnew stood by Glens Falls Hospital’s decision to preserve its N95 masks, except for situations in which droplets are sent into the air during certain medical treatments.
“This is something the regional hospitals all agreed to do for the safety of our teams and our patients, and to conserve PPE (personal protective equipment) for a predicted surge,” Agnew said. “Since we cannot predict continued state deployment of masks and other resources, the most precious resources have to be conserved.”
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