At a special meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee this upcoming Monday evening, the Chemung County Legislature will consider a resolution opposing an Executive Order by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that requires hospitals and other medical facilities to inform New York’s Department of Health (NYDOH) of the amount of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) they have and allows NYDOH to redistribute up to 20% of these items from areas that are not experiencing high levels of COVID-10 infections to places that are currently in crisis.
This resolution is moot, misleading, contrary to a spirit of cooperation being fostered in New York and around the globe, and – ironically – against the best interest of people living right here in Chemung County.
We are all in this mess together. Working together without regard to politics is the only reasonable path forward.
On April 7th Governor Cuomo signed the Executive Order in question. A full copy of it as well as an isolated portion of its relevant portion are embedded here:
Although Governor Cuomo had initially suggested the National Guard could be utilized for this redistribution effort, the actual language of his Executive Order reflects a much softer approach due to the the rapidly changing nature of the COVID-19 crisis along with an agreement he struck with the Healthcare Association of New York State, described in detail below.
Articles proving greater background details about the Executive Order can be found here and here. In them Governor Cuomo is quoted as saying that “in recent days hospitals throughout the state have what they need to confront the pandemic so far. Facilities are sharing resources, staff and equipment and redistributing patients when needed.”
To the best of my knowledge, as of the day this blog post is being published (April 10, 2020) no ventilators or PPE have been redistributed under the Executive Order.
The Proposed Resolution
A copy of the proposed resolution opposing Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order is embedded below:
The proposed resolution is moot.
As we all know, the COVID-19 situation changes rapidly. From the time Governor Cuomo first announced his intention to sign the Executive Order until today, New York state had been able to purchase roughly 500 ventilators from the private market, China sent 1,000, Oregon sent 140 and other states began releasing unused devices back to the national stockpile. Moreover, the overall need for ventilators in downstate is beginning to decrease as social distancing measures put into place last month have begun to significantly slow the virus’ spread.
In addition, opposition of the order from hospitals and medical groups has greatly eased. The Executive Order was initially opposed by the Healthcare Association of New York State, an organization that represents most New York hospitals and nursing homes. However, the two sides showed tremendous teamwork that resulted in a workable solution as discussed in a recent article found here.
According to the article, the Healthcare Association said it worked with Cuomo to create a coordinated “voluntary effort to redeploy available ventilators to regions where they are needed” as opposed to any sort of seizure by force.
The article also quotes Cuomo as saying he would only seek, if needed at all, 20% of the unused equipment at hospitals and other health-care facilities, something he has repeated many times at his daily press conferences.
Finally, the article quotes the Healthcare Association’s president speaking in favor of the Executive Order as she and her colleagues recognize the need to help out:
The Healthcare Association of New York State said it will work with providers to geo-code and transport the equipment.
“The sending hospital will be notified of the location of its ventilators when they reach their destination to facilitate a smooth return,” the group said.
Bea Grause, the association’s president, said hospitals want to help where they can. About 75% of the deaths in New York have occurred in the city.
“Hospitals continue to step up for their colleagues and the people of New York,” Grause said in a statement.
“They’re striking the right balance to protect their local community members while doing everything they can to save lives throughout the state.”
As such, the proposed resolution from our Legislature is moot as the critical need downstate is greatly decreasing and the Healthcare Association is now on board with Governor Cuomo’s efforts to redistribute resources across the state when and if it becomes necessary to do so.
The proposed resolution is misleading.
The only two reasons to pass a resolution such as the one that has been proposed are to (1) genuinely persuade the governor and/or state legislature to change its mind on a matter of importance; or (2) achieve some sort of political gain. As the COVID-19 situation is far too important for political gamesmanship, I have to believe the proposed resolution is intended to genuinely persuade Governor Cuomo to change his mind.
However, the proposed resolution’s title states its purpose is to “implore” Governor Cuomo to rescind the portion of the Executive Order that allows him to “seize and redistribute” ventilators and PPE. As described above, the Healthcare Association worked with Governor Cuomo to create a workable solution that involves voluntary action by hospitals as opposed to the use of force by the National Guard. It is hard to imagine how the proposed resolution’s misleading title would be persuasive.
Moreover, the proposed resolution states that part of its justification for refusing to help those in need is that our healthcare providers are “already taxed and overextended”.
Although this is undoubtedly a stressful time for everyone in the medical field, the reality is the due to reduced demand for services, our local providers are, in general, far less taxed right now than normal.
In fact, Arnot Health announced today that it is furloughing a number of clinical and non-clinical staff effective immediately as set forth in an article on WENY, found here and partially embedded below:
Arnot Health announced furloughs of clinical and non-clinical staff in both inpatient and outpatient areas across the company’s entire system.
Contrasting from a layoff, a furlough is an “unpaid leave of absence in which is expected to be for a temporary period”.
In a statement, officials say following the New York State mandate requiring hospitals to suspend almost all routine, non-emergent care to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19, and to free up beds to respond to the virus, Arnot Health’s revenues have been “reduced by approximately 50 percent”.
Officials say the mandatory service reduction has helped control the spread of the coronavirus and enabled Arnot Health to enhance its COVID-19 surge capacity care. However, they say the reduction in revenue has “made it impossible for Arnot Health to afford the cost of current staffing levels in all but the essential areas at this time”.
“As leaders of organizations comprised of such talented, dedicated, and compassionate professionals, this is the most painful decision hospital boards and management teams now must make,” said Jonathan Lawrence, Arnot Health President and CEO. “It is of no consolation that so many other facilities are now forced to take similar measures. However, this action is essential to safeguard our organization?s viability and to preserve the future of our mission. Arnot is working with our elected officials and state healthcare association to ensure that our voice is heard as legislation is developed to ease the devastating financial impact of this crisis on our people and our organization.”
Like the title, misleading information like this is unlikely to result in anything productive.
The proposed resolution is at odds with a spirit of cooperation infecting the globe at a far greater rate than COVID-19.
I think we can all agree that if there has ever been a time to work together, this is it.
When Governor Cuomo asked for medical personnel in New York and other states to put their lives on the line to volunteer downstate, 90,000 people signed up.
Inspiring videos of medical providers from Cayuga Medical Center and Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse show what this kind of cooperation looks like:
Oregon and California, both facing their own COVID-19 impacts, sent ventilators to New York City as the need is so great right now. China did the same. The federal government sent a Navy ship to New York City. The upstate hospitals featured above sent their own employees.
This is no time for the people of Chemung County to turn their backs on those in need. The people who are very ill in downstate New York are just like us – they are nurses, teachers, coaches, police officers, firefighters, bus drivers, grocery store employees, moms and dads, sons and daughters.
As stated above, the likelihood of New York State redistributing 20% of the ventilators and PPE located in Chemung County is exceedingly small. However, if such need arose, and we are still in a place of relatively low infection, I have to believe we would all agree it is the right thing to do – just as we would expect the same in return.
The proposed resolution is against our own interests.
If we don’t want to proceed along ethical or moral lines, let’s at least be smart about it.
It looks like downstate New York will reach its apex of COVID-19 cases in the near future. If the current trends hold, downstate should have enough ventilators and PPE to get them through this extraordinarily daunting period.
However, we have not experienced widespread infection of COVID-19 in Chemung County – yet. If the language of the proposed resolution is to be believed, local hospitals have “meager” resources such that an outbreak at crowded facilities like the Chemung County Nursing Facility or one of our prisons would threaten to overrun our inventory of ventilators and PPE very quickly.
In that event, wouldn’t we want – demand, even – that our neighbors across New York State step up and help us? Isn’t this just like mutual aid? Your house is on fire, and we of course will race to help you out. But, when our house is burning, we expect – we trust – that you will do the same thing in return.
Passing a resolution like this tells everyone else in New York that we are not willing to help out. I highly doubt this will bode well when and if we are the ones who need it.
Please share your thoughts on this topic by commenting here or on the Chemung County Matters Facebook page. I will be sure they are shared with other members of the Legislature.
You can also make a statement during public comment period about this or any other issue during our full Legislature Meeting that will be held right after the special Health and Human Services Meeting on Monday. To make a statement, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your statement will be read into the record at the meeting.