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County’s COVID-19 surge preparedness plan includes creation of field hospital


F.F. Thompson Hospital's Sands-Constellation Intensive Care Unit.

F.F. Thompson Hospital’s Sands-Constellation Intensive Care Unit.

Rochester’s health care providers believe they can more than double the number of available hospital beds within existing facilities to more than 4,000 should there be a wave of serious COVID-19 cases due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But doctors say the four-phase surge contingency plan — which also includes creation of a field hospital with another 500 to 1,000 beds — may never go beyond the early phases if Monroe County residents continue to stay indoors, isolate and refrain from unnecessary gatherings.

“If we continue social distancing, it is likely the slope of that curve will be softened so that we don’t have the need for that many patient beds at one time,” said Kathy Parrinello, chief operating officer and executive vice president of UR Medicine.

Hospitals, however, must be ready for calamity, so UR Medicine and Rochester Regional Health have coordinated efforts with the Monroe County department of public health to create additional space and determine whether they have adequate staffing to cover a surge.

UR Medicine’s six hospitals — Strong Memorial, Highland, FF Thompson in Canandaigua and facilities in Dansville, Hornell and Wellsville — can boost the number of beds by 103 percent and RRH — with Rochester General, Unity and hospitals in Newark and Clifton Springs — can increase beds 109 percent.

“It’s the job of our health care system to prepare for the worst as we hope for the best,” Dr. Michael Apostolakos, chief medical officer at UR Medicine, said.

As of 10 a.m. Friday, there have been 160 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Monroe County, with 31 requiring hospitalization, including 20 in intensive care. Of those 160 cases, 14 have resolved. There are 423 people in mandatory quarantine or isolation.

The total number of cases in the county has doubled since the 80 reported on Monday, when five of the 11 hospitalized patients were in ICU.

There currently are 1,964 beds at all area hospitals and the plan calls for creation of another 2,080. Some of those beds (647) have already been opened up through Phase 1 of the plan by postponing non-essential surgery.

Phase 2 involves using overflow areas and ambulatory clinics for 761 beds and Phase 3 calls for the doubling up in rooms for non-COVID patients as well as using hallways for 672 additional beds.

“Implementing Phase 3 will be a sign that our community’s health system is on the verge of being overwhelmed,” Parrinello said.

If the number of cases reaches a crisis stage, then a field hospital would be created.

County Executive Adam Bello said officials would tour four targeted sites Friday afternoon to determine the best location. He said he also will be meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers, which would turn whatever existing facility is chosen into a field hospital.

“Those types of field hospitals can go up very, very quickly, I think within days,” Bello said.

He didn’t indicate whether the sites under consideration are hotels, commercial industrial/office buildings or convention space but said he will disclose the facility name when it is selected.

Officials said that for now they do believe they have adequate personal protective equipment and ventilators — 240 at RRH, 400 at UR Medicine, with an additional 20 arriving soon and another 30 to be ordered, Parrinello said.

Apostolakos said creating additional space is less of a concern than meeting workforce demands, but he is confident the hospitals will be prepared.

“We have a long list of professionals that we’re pulling from, and we do have a list of retired individuals that we can call on as we need it as the phases go on,” Apostolakos said.

Said Dr. Robert Mayo, chief medical officer at RRH: “We have a framework in place to find providers and train them quickly. There is a marketplace where current health care workers whose clinics are closed can go … and say ‘I would like to work in this place, I will focus my training to support this area.’ ”

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