IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

‘It May Get Pretty Bad’ This Winter as CNY Hospitals Fill

Intensive care units, where the sickest patients get the highest level of care, were also full at Oneida, Community General and Oswego Health. Upstate’s downtown Syracuse hospital, the region’s largest, was 97% full for both acute care and ICU beds.

Doctors and nurses at Upstate University Hospital have worked tirelessly since the spring, caring for patients in the Covid-19 ICU.
N. Scott Trimble | strimble/
(TNS) - Hospital beds in Central New York , including intensive care units, are full or nearly full just as flu season resumes and Covid-19 hospitalizations are higher than they’ve been since January.

As of Tuesday, all available patient beds at Oneida , Oswego , Guthrie Cortland and Upstate Community General hospitals were 100% full, according to data reported by the hospitals to the state.

Intensive care units, where the sickest patients get the highest level of care, were also full at Oneida , Community General and Oswego Health . Upstate’s downtown Syracuse hospital, the region’s largest, was 97% full for both acute care and ICU beds.

Hospitals are bursting at the seams at exactly the wrong time: More Covid-19 patients are hospitalized that at any point since late January, and the flu is making a strong comeback after nearly disappearing last year.

In addition, the pandemic has accelerated a nursing shortage as nurses seek better jobs or are fired for refusing to get Covid-19 vaccines. A hospital bed can only be used if there are enough nurses and other staff to care for the patient in it.

The number of beds available in the region has fallen by about 400 at the same time staffing dropped by about 20%, said Mike Backus , the chief operating officer for Oswego Health hospital.

“You’re dealing with less beds to manage patients and less staff to care for them,” Backus said. “You can see the impact right now.”

And it’s likely to get worse, said Dr. Duane Tull , Oswego hospital’s chief medical officer.

“Unfortunately, it may get pretty bad,” Tull said. “They’re predicting this flu season is going to be very similar to the 2012 season, which had a very high incidence of hospital admissions and very sick people. Add that on top of the existing Covid load that we have.”

An executive order signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul goes into effect today, allowing the state to curtail non-essential procedures in hospitals that have less than 10% beds open. That might have little impact in Central New York , though, as hospitals have already eliminated or sharply curtailed elective surgeries to free up hospital beds.

Upstate last month closed 124 beds, or nearly 20% of its total, and canceled elective surgeries because it didn’t have enough nurses. Oswego halted elective surgeries about four weeks ago and redeployed nurses to care for patients admitted with illness and injuries.

Crouse Hospital , where patient beds are nearly 90% full, said it has already scaled back surgeries.

“In response to significant increases in patient volumes, we have postponed a number of elective, inpatient surgical cases over the past month,” said Crouse spokesman Bob Allen . in a statement. “We are closely monitoring inpatient volume, which fluctuates daily, and are awaiting further guidance from the (state) Department of Health related to the executive order.”

Upstate said in a statement that the hospital often runs near 100% capacity because it is a teaching hospital and serves patients who need higher levels of care.

“We assess our capacity and ability to open more beds multiple times a day,” the statement read. “This does not mean that patients won’t be cared for—it just simply means that continual assessments need to be made depending upon the severity of patient and community needs.”

St. Joseph’s Health is the only Syracuse hospital with more than 10% of its beds available. That means it’s not subject to Hochul’s order yet.

“We have reduced the number of elective surgeries to ensure we maintain capacity and remain consistent with our focus on patient safety,” said a statement from Leslie Paul Luke , St. Joseph’s president and chief executive officer.

There’s some relief in sight for hospitals trying to free up beds. The New York National Guard is sending 18 medical personnel to Onondaga County’s largest nursing home, Loretto, in Syracuse . The extra staff will allow Loretto to open additional beds for short-term rehabilitation so it can accept more patients from hospitals, said Julie Sheedy , Loretto’s chief marketing and engagement officer.

In addition, Bishop Rehabilitation and Nursing Center is reopening a 35-bed Covid-only unit that will help free up beds at Syracuse hospitals.

Full hospitals mean not only that some patients are denied surgery, but some might be sent to other hospitals farther from home or see longer wait times in emergency rooms, said Thomas Dennison , a retired health care professional who has served on hospital boards.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said the state’s data don’t tell the whole story. He said he’s talked with top officials at each Syracuse hospital who say they have capacity.

“They’re in good shape related to be able to treat more people,” McMahon said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Still, there’s far less hospital space in Central New York now than a year ago, just when Covid-19 began its post- Thanksgiving surge. On Nov. 30, 2020 , the nine hospitals in Central New York had 290 ICU beds in use. On Tuesday, it was 207.

Last year, there were 103 patients in those ICUs. This week, there’s 190.

A year ago, no hospital had more than 75% of its ICU beds filled. Upstate’s main campus had 107 ICU beds available and just 14 patients in them a year ago. This week, Upstate has 89 ICU beds available, and 86 are filled.

Many patients in local hospitals are well enough to leave but can’t be discharged because there’s no place for them to go.

“Yesterday we had 28 people looking for skilled nursing or rehab beds, and we’re finding it hard to get patients out because the other places don’t have staff,” Hull said. “The staffing shortages are not just in the hospitals.”

Hull said Oswego can increase the number of beds if necessary and if there is staff available. This week, he said, the hospital opened up its recovery rooms for admitted patients. No one will be denied care, Hull said.

“We’re going to take care of you,” he said. “If we have to, we will expand capacity as we need to.”


16 hours in  Syracuse  hospital ER: ‘Nobody as sick as I was should have to wait that long’

Give teachers, health workers the resources they need, for a change (Your Letters)

An ‘alarming’ spike in flu and rising Covid-19 cases in CNY worry experts as holidays near

©2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.