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Yale New Haven Health officials describe COVID-19 impact, other hospitals less forthcoming

At least 60 employees at Greenwich Hospital have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic arrived in Connecticut.

Editor’s note: Nuvance Health, owner of Norwalk Hospital, declined Tuesday to provide NancyOnNorwalk the number of COVID-19 patients it’s treating in the hospital.

The more than 600 COVID-19 patients now in beds at the Greenwich, Bridgeport and Yale New Haven hospitals have put that health care system under enormous pressure, but officials there say the facilities and staff are holding their own for now.

The comprehensive portrait sketched Tuesday by Yale New Haven Health executives about how the deadly coronavirus is impacting their system stands in sharp contrast to the lack of information coming from some other Connecticut hospitals and health networks.

As of Tuesday morning, the Yale New Haven Health hospitals at the epicenter of Connecticut’s coronavirus pandemic have seen 53 COVID-19 fatalities. Sixty staff members at Greenwich Hospital have tested positive for the disease, and more than half the beds at that hospital are now filled with COVID patients, hospital officials said in a video conference call Tuesday.

Critical N95 respirator masks are now being used up at a rate of more than 3,000 per day within the three hospitals – twice the “burn rate” of a week earlier – and many of those masks are now undergoing sterilization for re-use.

Dr. Tom Balcezak, chief clinical officer for Yale-New Haven Health, said the system currently has “adequate supplies” of personal protective equipment (PPE) but is continuing to search for N95 masks. He said those types of masks used to cost 50 cents each but are now selling for $6 apiece “if you’re able to find them.”

Norman Roth, president and CEO of Greenwich Hospital, rejected reports that his facility is being overwhelmed by the pandemic.

There are now 107 COVID-19 patients in the 203-bed hospital, with 24 patients in the intensive care unit and 22 on ventilators. Roth said Greenwich Hospital still has 20 ventilators that aren’t currently being used and that regular staff-to-patient ratios are being maintained.

“Yes, it is an extraordinary challenge,” Roth said. “I would not consider it to be a disaster area.”

Public information about how the pandemic is stressing individual hospitals across Connecticut has been uneven and spotty as the spread of the virus has increased and concerns over potential equipment shortages have grown.

More than 206 people have now died of COVID-19 in this state and more than 1,200 hospitalized. Experts are predicting the surge of the pandemic in Connecticut to peak in the next few weeks.

Officials at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford and Waterbury Hospital have repeatedly declined to offer any details about bed availability, critical equipment such as N95 masks and ventilators, and other information. On March 31, Trinity Health of New England, which owns Saint Francis, began sending out a “daily update” listing how many people it has tested for COVID-19, how many of those tests are negative and positive, and how many tests are still pending.

“We have adequate PPE and are prepared for the surge,” said Amy Ashford, regional director for marketing and communications for Trinity Health. “Our transparency is evident in the information we send to the state,” Ashford said Tuesday.

State officials have not released specific, hospital-by-hospital information about equipment supplies or needs.

Ashford declined to respond when asked why Trinity Health wasn’t releasing the kind of information being provided by Yale-New Haven and Greenwich Hospitals, Stamford Hospital and Bristol Hospital.

Lauresha Xhihani, the spokeswoman for Waterbury Hospital, also declined to answer questions about the number of beds available, number of COVID-19 patients, equipment burn rates and potential shortages. “We currently have a sufficient supply of N95 respirators to protect our employees and we are working hard to procure additional supplies,” she said in an email.

The results of a new survey by the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found hospitals across country are encountering difficulties similar to those experienced in Connecticut.

Hospitals reported shortages or potential shortages of critical testing supplies and personal protective equipment, difficulties maintaining and supporting staff levels, and general supply problems. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump ripped into the inspector general’s report, rejecting claims about “severe shortages” of key hospital supplies.

The Connecticut Hospital Association, which represents the state’s 27 acute care hospitals, isn’t keeping hospital-specific lists about staffing, beds, PPE and other critical supplies its members need, said Jennifer Jackson, president and CEO of the association.

“In terms of who exactly has what PPE – you know, how many masks, how many gloves, how many gowns – we don’t have that tracked,” said Jackson. She said the association does, however, track numbers of ventilators and, as of Monday, the state now had about 1,300.

Jackson said hospitals share with the association and the state on a daily basis “what their greatest needs are” and that CHA passes that information on to state officials.

Some Connecticut hospitals have been very open about their bed availability and critical supply problems.

Hartford HealthCare officials have routinely held news briefings about their system’s coronavirus response. Stamford Hospital executives have also provided information about numbers of COVID-19 patients, equipment needs, and bed availability.

A spokesman for Bristol Hospital, one of the state’s smaller acute care hospitals, readily answered questions this week about coronavirus patients at that facility, availability of beds and how fast some types of PPE were being used up.

“We’re going through, we estimate, up to 600 [hospital protective] gowns a day,” Bristol Health spokesman Chris Boyle said. “That’s not sustainable,” he said, adding the hospital is exploring every possible source for the gowns, including some made from construction materials.

Bristol Hospital saw its first COVID-19 death on Sunday and now has seven patients with confirmed cases and three more who are waiting for test results.

“The great unknown is when is the surge going to hit us,” Boyle said.

Similar questions and worries about key supplies are being asked at hospitals all over Connecticut.

Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam currently has only one coronavirus-positive patient and just two patients awaiting results of tests for the disease.

Dr. John Graham, chief medical officer for Day Kimball, said the hospital is in a “pretty good place” for most types of protective equipment at the moment. “But we’re a little challenged in the area of hand sanitizer,” he said, explaining they have limited amounts within the hospital facilities, and none left in supply rooms.

Graham said the hospitals has ordered sanitizer and expects a delivery next week.

In the Yale New Haven system, where the pandemic’s surge is already hitting hard, officials said one hopeful sign is that nearly 250 COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized have now been discharged and that 75% of those people were able to return home without stays at auxiliary facilities..

Balcezak said his staff continues to believe that testing for coronavirus “is a very important mainstay” in dealing with the pandemic but that testing is limited by a lack of materials and the speed at which various laboratories can process the tests.

The Yale-New Haven system has about 200 tests a day processed by its own lab and often has results back within several hours, Balcezak said. The Mayo Clinic is also processing about 600 COVID-19 tests per day for Yale New Haven, he said.

CT Mirror reporter Jenna Carlesso contributed to this story.

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