St. Peter’s readies county’s Tower for overflow COVID-19 patients

— Still frame from Albany County Jan. 12, 2021 press conference

“It’s very important that arrow be added to our quiver,” said James Reed, the president and chief executive officer of St. Peter’s Health Partners. He was talking about St. Peter’s outfitting and staffing the unused Tower at the Albany County nursing home for non-infectious COVID-19 patients; the 160 beds there would be used if hospitals have reached capacity.

ALBANY COUNTY — St. Peter’s Health Partners is outfitting the now-unused Tower of the county’s nursing home to be ready for an overflow of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

“It will not touch our current nursing home,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy in making the announcement at a press conference on Tuesday morning. He said his priority is to keep the nursing-home residents and workers safe.

McCoy also said, “I was not going to have one county resident or one Capital District resident or one New Yorker be stuck in a parking lot or stuck in a tent and found out you lost your loved one that way.”

The announcement came as the eight-county Capital Region had a record number of new cases — 351, breaking the Jan. 1 record of 346.

At the same time, the Capital Region has a high number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and one of the worst rates in the state for available hospital beds and intensive-care-unit beds.

“Our hospitalizations are the highest it’s been in 10 months,” said McCoy. “We’re seeing the death rate go up and up every day and positive cases going up, up every day.”

James Reed, the president and chief executive officer of St.Peter’s Health Partners, stressed how the hospitals in the region have been working cooperatively with twice-daily phone calls  to move patients when a hospital reaches the “magic 85-percent utilization number.”

Depending on the facility and the day, he said, hospitals in the region are at 70- to 80-percent capacity. “Once we get to 85 percent, we get nervous,” Reed said.

That is the number set by the state’s winter plan for when a region would have to shut down.

Reed noted that, in March, when the pandemic first hit New York, the state required hospitals to come up with surge plans, so they could increase their beds by 50 percent.

The current, second surge has been more problematic, with about three times the number of patients hospitalized as in the spring, Reed said. “Our problem has not been beds now but staff,” he said.

St. Peter’s has 100 office sites from which nurses can be redeployed for acute care, Reed said. “We’ve even gotten to the point of stopping elective surgery,” he said.

Reed stressed that the Tower won’t be used immediately although St. Peter’s is now fitting it out to be ready.

If the Tower is pressed into use, it will be used for patients who are “still testing COVID-positive but are not infectious,” said Reed, adding, “That’s s a decision that is made clinically.”

The decision is made following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said, and would apply to 50 to 60 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

The Tower has 160 beds.

Reed said there is no way to predict when or if the Tower will be needed. “It’s certainly going to be going up right now,” he said of hospitalizations.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has come under fire for a directive early in the pandemic, since rescinded, that hospitals could return COVID-19 patients to nursing homes.

McCoy stressed that since Shaker Place Rehabilitation and Nursing Center has just completed renovations, and all of the nursing home’s 172 residents along with its 200 workers are now in a separate building from the Tower.

The Tower has a separate entrance; a separate ventilation system; and will be furnished, staffed, and run by St. Peter’s, said McCoy, stressing there will be no intersection with county nursing-home workers or residents.


Newest numbers

McCoy started his press conference by announcing that two more Albany County residents have died of COVID-19: a woman in her fifties and a man in his eighties. This brings the county’s death toll to 256.

As of Tuesday morning, Albany County has had 14,564 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Of the 351 new cases, 287 did not have a clear source of infection identified, 42 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, and  21 are health-care workers or residents of congregate settings.

The five-day average for new daily positives has increased to 279 from 265.4. There are now 1,948 active cases in the county, down from 1,997 on Monday.

The number of county residents under mandatory quarantine increased to 3,154 from 3,119. So far, 43,935 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 12,616 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 390 recoveries since yesterday.

There were 15 new hospitalizations since Monday, and there are 155 county residents currently hospitalized from the virus — a net increase of seven. There are now eight patients in intensive-care units, down from nine yesterday.

Of the state’s 10 regions, the Capital Region is among the three worst for hospital capacity, according to a release on Tuesday from Cuomo’s office. Currently, 529 Capital Region residents are hospitalized with COVID-19, which is 0.05 percent of the region’s population and leaves 25 percent of its hospital beds available.

Statewide, 0.05 percent of New Yorkers are hospitalized with the virus and 32 percent of the state’s hospital beds are available.

The Capital Region is also among the worst three regions, on a seven-day average, for available ICU beds. The region has 211 of its 264 ICU beds filled, leaving 19 percent available. Statewide, 27 percent of ICU beds are available.

The Capital Region’s infection rate, as a seven-day average, is 9.01 percent; four of the state’s 10 regions have a rate over 9 percent. Statewide, the positivity rate is 7.21 percent.

More Regional News

  • The Guilderland Planning Board recently heard Borrego Solar Systems propose a five-megawatt ground-mounted solar facility at 2825 Curry Road, a well-screened-from-the-road 48-acre parcel located in a largely commercial area. 

  • Richard Tollner, of Rensselaerville, who says he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest in the 1970s, filed a pre-action discovery petition against the Diocese of Albany, which would allow his attorneys to acquire information that is “material and necessary to [an] actionable wrong,” according to court documents.

  • “A lot of these folks out this way do not want to go down into the city to get services so here we’re bringing services to them and I think this is just going to grow and grow,” said Sheriff Craig Apple of the new program to have social workers and trained EMS crews answer some emergency calls in rural Albany County.

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