As hospitalizations increase in Oneida County, local health officials say staffing is the biggest concern.
There are now 119 Oneida County residents hospitalized with COVID-19.
85 COVID patients are in Mohawk Valley Health Systems, 20 in Rome Memorial Hospital and 14 hospitalized outside of the county.
The number of actual COVID patients in the county's three hospitals is likely higher than that, because there are patients from outside of the county hospitalized there as well.
On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the State Department of Health is ordering all hospitals across the state to increase bed capacity by 25%.
Phyllis Ellis, the director of public health in Oneida County, said that isn't really an issue, but staffing is.
"The concern is not so much the physical space and the equipment because hospitals can really jump to the matter and get beds in different locations that now are used for office space, etc.," Ellis said. "The concern would be, do you have enough qualified and available staff to staff more beds and that's where your surge capacity comes in."
Darlene Stromstad, the president and CEO of MVHS, says that is a concern right now.
"Just like hospitals around the country, we are struggling with staffing," Stromstad said. "There is a nationwide shortage of nurses. This shortage existed even before COVID-19 and then you add onto that the increased demand on hospitals due to COVID and the number of staff that are out because they've been exposed or have become ill with this dreaded virus."
Stromstad says MVHS is not worried about increasing capacity at this time.
"At this moment, we have the capacity to care for our community and we have a surge plan in place that would increase our bed capacity if needed," Stromstad said.
She also says MVHS is working to recruit nurses and other staff.
"We are not sitting idle, we are aggressively working to address these challenges," Stromstad said. "In addition to recruiting, we're implementing a staffing plan for the next three weeks that offers increased compensation for nurses who are willing to work extra shifts. We are reaching out to past employees, as well as those who have applied for a job in our organization in the past. We're again contacting nurses who took a layoff and asking them to reconsider."
Rome Memorial Hospital is faced with the same problem. The vice president of communications and marketing sent out a request asking retired health care professionals to consider going back to work temporarily.
"The hospital’s leadership team meets twice a day to evaluate our staffing needs to ensure that we have enough people to care for our patients," said Vice President Clinical Services/Chief Nursing Officer Samantha Vining, MS, RN. "Our dedicated front line professionals are taking on extra shifts. Directors, managers and educators have returned to the bedside."
Vining says to contact the Human Resources Department at (315) 338-7219. All skill sets and specialties are needed.
“Retired health care professionals, including nurses, respiratory therapists and aides, can provide that extra assistance to support our current staff because they already understand the importance of infection prevention and patient privacy,” Vining said. “We will work with you to determine the best fit for you and appreciate any support that you can give.”