Mayor Eric Adams made a trip to Elmhurst Hospital — the original COVID-19 epicenter of the city’s pandemic — on Wednesday afternoon to outline a new program assisting medical centers treating the influx of sick patients.
Hizzoner unfolded a three-point plan that will aid hospitals with the resources they need to weather the surge in COVID-19 cases. “Often we forget about the safety net hospitals, they play a vital role in ensuring that there is a net that people can safely know they’re not going to fall through the system,” Adams said.
Speaking to a room brimming with elected officials and medical staff, Adams and health leaders also provided a rundown on the positivity rates the city is seeing, which suggest that the Omicron variant-fueled uptick in COVID-19 cases isn’t about to slow down just yet.
“The data that we’re seeing, which is cases are increasing and hospitalizations are increasing. I expect that that will continue in the near term, meaning the next 10 days or two weeks, what we’re looking for is a deceleration in the rate of growth. And we’re not seeing that yet. But that’s what I’m looking for in the data for us to be able to say that we may be approaching the peak in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Dr. Chokshi stated that the tracking showcased a steep increase in positive rates over the last week of December, but in recent days he has noticed “leveling off” but explains it is too early to tell if this due to holiday testing patterns or a reprieve. He says that in order to combat the virus he urges that individuals be vaccinated, boosted, wash their hands, and wear a higher quality of masks. He does recommend cloth masks, and emphasized surgical masks and other higher grade face coverings should now be used.
The surge of COVID-19 cases has also once again caused a dangerous healthcare worker to patient ratio, leaving many facilities shorthanded.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that as of Dec. 30, 2021 the number of health care workers who had contracted COVID-19 doubled to 803,454 and 3,063 had died from the virus. This has resulted in dangerous staffing conditions for nurses and other medical personnel.
“I saw it last night when I was at Woodhull Hospital with other medical professionals and how much they’re going through, they were energized to help people to get through this period. And our healthcare heroes have been working long hours, countless number of days, times away from their family, but they were committed and dedicated and they’re clear we are going to beat back COVID. We’re not going to succumb or allow our lives to be defined by COVID. We’re going to be stronger than ever when we cycle out of this period,” Adams said.
With the increase in rates, hospitals are seeing a reduction in their staff as they quarantine to help stop the spread. In light of this Adams announced a corporate partnership with Goldman Sachs that will provide $33 million in funds to safety net hospitals, such as Elmhurst in Queens and Brookdale in Brooklyn. This allows these facilities who are in need of money to attain the resources needed so that they can make critical investments. While much of this will be FEMA reimbursable, the immediate funds allow for staffing and equipment to paid for immediately.
The program named the New York City COVID-19 hospital loan fund will aid frontline hospitals in the NYC Health and Hospitals network by providing salaries, protective equipment, testing, vaccine administration and distribution. Adams added that so far these loans have already funded over 22,400 safety net hospital staff members that have served over 26,000 patients. The money is said to be placed in a “hospital pool” and utilized to meet the demands of taking care of patients. The funds were most recently used in Coney Island Hospital—which was noted at the press conference to have been hit the hardest first due to the large number of elderly residents—to hire nurses and additional staff.
Adams commended Goldman Sachs on their effort and called upon other financial institutions to take the same steps and not just applaud medical facilities but support them.
In addition to the hospital loan, the mayor has allocated the immediate use of $111 million for Health and Hospitals to hire nurses, utilize additional providers, and supply support staff. According to NYC Health + Hospitals President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Mitchell Katz, members of City Hall will work together to get as much of this reimbursed by FEMA since the money is considered budget neutral and was previously allocated for this year’s fiscal budget. Katz stressed that this money will provide immediate help with the severe staffing shortages medical facilities are currently facing.
“We know about the staffing issues that we are facing finding the dollars in the money to ensure that we maintain proper staffing in our hospitals. This is crucial and we’re going to do everything possible to ensure this pump-up baseline staffing including doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and support rookies and it would increase the overall COVID capacity and how we respond though. Expand staffing and support at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene part of our ongoing COVID-19 Response Plan,” Adams said.