As infections mount, county looks ahead

Brooks-TLC prepares for possible ‘surge’

Submitted photos Staff members place a tent in the Brooks-TLC visitor parking lot in late October for a drill.

Chautauqua County has yet to see a major surge in COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic. In fact, the highest number of hospitalizations due to the virus has never been greater than 25, which occurred in late October.

That, however, has not put a local health care staff at ease.

As part of its COVID-19 emergency preparedness surge plan, Brooks-TLC Hospital System, Inc. conducted a drill last month that not only set the stage for planning ahead, but at the same time, unearthed opportunities for shared resources and linkages with community partners.

“The current internal layout of the emergency room physical space is at capacity,” said Julie Morton, director of nursing, emergency department. “So we worked closely with plant operations and the entire emergency preparedness team to design a plan to decompress the (emergency department) in the event of a surge in pandemic-related patients. Ultimately, the design chosen allows us to avoid cross contamination by treating non-urgent patients in an outdoor surge tent.”

Recent COVID numbers have put the nation — as well as New York state — on high alert. Currently, the Chautauqua County Health Department notes, hospitalizations linked to the virus are at seven. But with more people being indoors due to colder temperatures, there is a sense infections could rise.

The inside of the tent is modeled after an emergency department.

With necessary supplies and equipment on hand to execute the plan, a potential tent at the hospital provides flexibility to address any number of emergency scenarios. Amy Romanik, emergency management and safety coordinator, said: “Hospitals nationwide are setting up medical tents outside their facilities in preparation for a potential influx of COVID-19 patients. Our tent can expand the hospital’s footprint by 676 square feet of clinical space if needed.”

According to a news release prepared by the hospital, a recent drill took place over the course of two days.

A staging area in the visitor parking lot near the hospital’s outpatient entrance was cordoned off to perform a simulation of surge tent setup.

Members across all hospital departments came together to work through all necessary functions – including computers, internet, electricity, personal protective equipment, staffing and other supplies needed for the tent. “The dry run showed us what was missing and allowed us to work out the kinks,” Romanik said.

Come day two, the end result was mobilization of a fully functioning extension of the emergency department, equipped with eight patient beds in about three hours to first patient. “Brooks-TLC doesn’t see this as a hospital asset, but a community asset that could be used for other emergency events that could impact others in the future,” Romanik said.

Regionally, according to the COVID-19 New York state Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard, 30% of hospitalization beds are available with Intensive Care Unit beds filled at a 45% capacity. After October when the highest number of cases at 404 were reported in Chautauqua County, the numbers for November are growing at a much quicker pace.

Through the first 16 days of this month, there have been a total of 274 infections. In addition, since March, there have been 578 reported cases in the Dunkirk-Fredonia ZIP code.

“We’ve initiated conversations with many local organizations, all of which have been supportive of the hospital since the pandemic began,” Morton said. “We’re delighted to be in in a position to share resources with the community we serve.”


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