Hudson Headwaters Health Network anticipates “an uptick” in the numbers of North Country residents with COVID-19 within the next two weeks, Dr. Tucker Slingerland, the Network’s president and CEO, said March 27.
The regional primary care provider is “bracing for the next wave of patients, who are also likely to be sicker than those we’ve seen to date,” he said.
Slingerland said one would need “a crystal ball” to predict with any accuracy how many people would require treatment but, he added, “we’re making plans that include the ability to handle large increases in the volume of patients. We feel prepared.”
As of March 28, ten Warren County residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19; of the ten, three have recovered from the illness or “self-resolved” (to use a term popularized by Gov. Andrew Cuomo) since receiving tests in early March.
Out-of-area visitors are unlikely to be responsible for the surge in new cases, said Jane Hooper, a Hudson Headwaters spokeswoman.
“”My sense is that most of the expected growth in COVID-19 patients is exponential growth, a function of ‘community spread,’ rather than the simple result of cases originating elsewhere and brought here by visitors to the region,” said Hooper. “COVID-19 cases could certainly originate with people traveling here, just as that could happen in any region of the country, but that is not likely the majority of what we are anticipating.”
If visitors or second home residents who have returned to Lake George and the Adirondacks earlier than usual do fall ill, “Hudson Headwaters is prepared to provide access to primary care to them and everyone else in our communities,” said Hooper.
In a March 27 conference call with local media, Slingerland and the Network’s Chief Medical Officer, John Sawyer, MD, outlined steps that have been taken to prepare for the anticipated influx of new patients.
Those steps include making certain that health centers are not so overwhelmed by the surge that current patient loads cannot be managed.
“We’re examining current staffing scenarios and looking at other scenarios where providers and support staff may have to be deployed differently,” said Slingerland. “We have a patient population that’s aging, with many suffering from chronic diseases such as respiratory failure or diabetes. We have to be creative in how we address the needs of these patients.”
Among other things, Hudson Headwaters is monitoring patients unable to visit health centers by frequent phone calls. Moreover, hundreds of doctors’ consultations have been conducted using telemedicine.
Hudson Headwaters is also working to ensure the safety of its providers and support staff.
“We’re trying to protect our patients, but also, the folks in the health centers,” said Slingerland. “Given the limited numbers of kits available for testing for the virus, currently, we’re only testing staff. They need to stay healthy in order to take care of patients.”
According to Dr. Sawyer, Hudson Headwaters is closely monitoring its supplies of PPE, or Personal Protective Equipment.
“We quickly established an inventory system and we are doing our best to conserve equipment,” said Sawyer. “The people with the highest risk of exposure need our best equipment. We have an adequate supply as of now for the work we’re doing. But we certainly don’t have enough equipment if this epidemic lasts for a long period of time. “
Should local hospitals become overwhelmed by a surge in COVID-19 cases, Hudson Headwaters will offer whatever assistance it can, said Slingerland.
“We’re working closely with local hospitals. We have medical staff with extensive experience in hospital settings and could easily handle intensive care unit work,” said Slingerland. “Without knowing exactly what’s coming, we’re planning as best we can.”