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Cuomo signs executive order to shift unused medical equipment from upstate to downstate, if needed


Gov. Andrew Cuomo is authorizing the state to move some medical equipment like ventilators and face masks from upstate hospitals to those in downstate New York that are facing shortages because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The governor issued the executive orderTuesday, which said in part that the New York State Department of Health "may shift any such items not currently needed, or needed in the short term future by a health care facility, to be transferred to a facility in urgent need of such inventory, for purposes of ensuring New York hospitals, facilities and health care workers have the resources necessary to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and distribute them where there is an immediate need."

Upstate lawmakers were quick to criticize Cuomo's announcement last week that he was going to send the National Guard to pick up 20 percent of the ventilators that upstate hospitals were not using. State Sen. Patty Ritchie (R-Heuvelton), whose district includes parts of Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, said it concerned many in her rural district.

"I don’t believe anybody would begrudge giving up equipment that we didn’t really feel that we would need to use here," Ritchie said. "That being said, when this started in New York City, my hospitals were already telling me that they were at a critical level for supplies at that moment and if anything, it’s gotten worse. When you say across the board 10-20 percent, there’s a big difference between 20 percent on PPE [personal protective equipment] supplies if you have 30 or 60-days worth - a lot of our hospitals had only a couple days' worth to begin with."

But the Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS) released a statement saying it was working with the governor's office to coordinate what it calls a "voluntary effort" to deploy only the equipment that hospitals know they can spare. HANYS President Beatrice Grause said it will be a collaborative process to shift resources to where they are needed most.

"There’s no hard formula, there’s no minimum number, it’s really a real-time question and a conversation with local leaders about what is your unused capacity and do you have ventilators that you can redeploy," Grause said. "It will be a balancing act."

Although Grause said no hospital will be overlooked if the state needs to reallocate medical equipment, no single hospital will be required to meet the need alone. And she said that the system is designed to assist any part of the state that is overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.

According to the executive order, the ventilators will stay with upstate hospitals until they are needed and will be returned as soon as possible and that hospitals will be compensated for what is not returned.

A spokesperson for the Mohawk Valley Health System in Utica said the hospital is already in talks with HANYS about how it can play a role in helping other communities across the state. 

"The top priority for MVHS has been and will always be caring for and protecting our patients and our community," said Darlene Stromstad, FACHE, President/CEO of MVHS in a press release. "But, we are also members of a broader healthcare community and are good citizens of the State of New York. After a careful review of our community’s needs for today and our plans for handling a potential surge of patients from our region, we are offering our support to other facilities and have expressed a willingness to have patients transferred to our facilities if necessary."

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.