Northwell CEO Answers Questions About Expanding NY Hospital Capacity

Photo credit sudok1
By WCBS Newsradio 880

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced New York State could outstrip current hospital capacity by tens of thousands when coronavirus cases reach an expected peak in 45 days.

To help figure out how to maximize capacity, Cuomo named Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling to lead a council overseeing the effort.

Dowling spoke with WCBS 880’s Steve Scott about what’s being done.

Q: What kind of challenge is the state looking at here in terms of hospital capacity?

A: Well, it’s large, but we do have capacity that we can create. This all depends, of course, on how big the spike in volume is going to be. So, today for example. I’ve had discussions with every hospital in the region for them to immediately identify the excess capacity that they can create because we create extra capacity all the time when you have higher volume and I believe that there would be substantial capacity created to accommodate.

We will know more about that in the next day or two, so we do have the ability to increase the availability of beds, But, whether or not that is enough or not, we don’t know. We are looking at alternative locations but it is a challenge, but we’re working very, very hard to be able to meet the challenge.

Healthcare is very resilient. Healthcare systems adapt very quickly all the time, so I am very confident that we will be able to meet the challenge successfully.

Q: At the current rate of new cases, as you try to read the arc of where it’s going, is the health system ready for the surge in hospital patients?

A: We will be ready. Right now, the volume is relatively low but what people have to remember is that if you test a hundred people, you’re going to find that, you know, 25 of them are positive – of that the number that are positive, about 80% of them would be taken care of at home. A smaller percentage, maybe 10, 12% of immediate hospitalization. Some of them may be very, very. very sick. So how big the spike in volume is going to be, we don't actually know, so what we have to do is prepare for something that could be extraordinary.

At that time, we will be prepared either with our own capacity, with the exterior capacity to we can create in other locations that are not hospitals. We have no choice here, we have to be ready,

This is not a question of saying, “well, we're going to be defeated by this.” We're not going to be defeated by this, we're going to respond and be very, very adaptable and very, very creative and innovative.

Q: At Northwell Health, you run the largest healthcare organization in New York State – 23 hospitals, more than 700 outpatient facilities within your own company. Are you folks ready for the surge?

A: I can create, very quickly, well over a thousand extra beds in our system alone.

That is done by, you know, doubling of patients because we are so large and we have so many multiple hospitals, I can move things from hospital to hospital while I can create units at certain hospitals to check on the capacity.

So the indirect answer to your question: We’re as ready as we can be.

You can get a surprise with this. I mean, you can get hit with something traumatic and then you have to respond, just like we did with Hurricane Sandy, which came quickly, suddenly and disrupted staff's lives.

Q: Are all possibilities on the table, could we see tents in hospital parking lots – some local congressmen who want to bring in a navy hospital ship – is everything on the table?

A: Everything is on the table. I mean we do have tents, we have a mobile tent unit in our facilities, we've used them before building up on other events. So those are available and we're looking at every possibility.

We're looking at what would happen with the federal government whether or not FEMA would be involved, as the governor mentioned today, and, you know, the governor is being on the forefront of this and these you know you're driving a ship in a big, big way and he's looking at every possibility.

You know the governor, there is nothing he doesn't look at, there's no option he doesn't examine and that's the way we are in our healthcare system and that's the way all the healthcare systems are as well, so nothing is off the table here.