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ECMC nears capacity with COVID cases on the rise

But people hospitalized with COVID only make up 12% of ECMC's patients

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The vaccine mandate for hospital workers has been staunchly defended by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Back in September, just a month after being sworn in, Hochul said to health care workers, “Every single person who ends up in your care has the right to know that there is safe as they can be."

Now with area hospitals running low on beds some people, like West Seneca town supervisor Gary Dickman, wonder if more beds might be available if hospitals didn’t have to fire unvaccinated workers.

“In this circumstance, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Dickman said.

But at Erie County Medical Center, the largest hospital in Western New York, the vaccine mandate is not the biggest factor in the scarcity of beds.

For starters, Cutler says approximately 320 people have been hired at the hospital since August, and that includes 100 nurses. That addresses staff loses for people dismissed for refusing to get vaccinated.

ECMC is nearly full. It is licensed for 573 beds; 552 are currently filled. COVID patients are at 68, a number that has risen in recent days, but is still just 12% of all occupied ECMC beds.

Cutler says what would free up beds is placing some 60 patients categorized as “cleared for discharge.”

These are patients who no longer require acute hospital care and are waiting to be placed at a rehab facility or nursing home. Those kinds of long-term care spaces are very difficult to find, so those patients stay in the hospital.

A big factor of ECMC’s hospitalizations are people who show up in the emergency department. Violence, and specifically gun violence, has brought more people to ECMC, and as a result, emergency department wait times are way up.  

Cutler notes 80% of admissions are through the emergency department.

If COVID hospitalizations begin to rise, hospitals around New York State might be forced to make more beds available. Governor Hochul this weekend authorized the state health department to reduce or temporarily eliminate elective surgeries to make more beds available for COVID patients.

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