News10NBC Investigates: Where is the state help for short-staffed hospitals?

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — For months, News10NBC has been reporting on major staffing shortages that are crippling our entire local healthcare system.

The problem was bad before the vaccine mandate for workers went into effect and it’s only gotten worse since.

Gov. Kathy Hochul held a COVID-19 briefing in Buffalo Tuesday, News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke was there and got a chance to ask her a few questions afterward about what she’s doing to try and help.

Hochul was here in Western New York because Buffalo and Rochester currently have the highest COVID-19 transmission rates in the state. Hospitalizations in our region are up too, adding more stress on a system that’s already near crisis.

The governor’s own data shows that we’re down to just 8% of available staffed hospital bed capacity in the Finger Lakes region.

They’re not filled with COVID patients but they’re filled nonetheless, and as we’ve reported, staffing shortages are crippling them.

Jennifer Lewke – Governor, your data shows just 8% of hospital beds are available right now in the Finger Lakes region. We have been — for months now — been reporting about major staffing shortages that are backing up the entire healthcare system. When you put the vaccine mandate into place, you said that they were failsafes available to help with the staffing issues. Many of our hospitals say they have reached out to the state for help and they haven’t gotten much, what are you doing to help them?

Gov. Kathy Hochul – I would be happy to hear who they are because we have a war room set up to respond to areas where there’s high need. We also know that many of them could go into their surge staffing levels some choose not to it’s more expensive. […] I have everything from 1,000 student nurses who are ready to be deployed like this (snaps fingers) if it gets dire, we have the National Guard, we have EMTs who are willing to assist. So we have resources but the first question we ask is have you done everything you possibly can to avoid this because it’s a collaborative approach that we’re taking as well. We’re very conscious of this, we’re conscious of this.

Jennifer Lewke – They say they have, they can’t just pull employees out of nowhere essentially. We’ve checked with our nursing schools. Nobody’s been called up so what will it take?

Gov. Kathy Hochul – You’ll have to give us a specific example and I’d be happy to run it down for you and tell you what happened in that circumstance. It’s because I’m hearing other stories elsewhere and I also have available to us institutions in New York City where they had a very high vaccination rate, people are all at work 99% in some hospital systems and I’ve asked them to be available to share staff Upstate or other places that are having a problem so it would be more helpful, is if instead of debating whether or not it happens in one place and I’m telling you we have an approach to deal with this give us the examples and will run it down for you.

We know our hospitals are in surge staffing mode and that is fine short-term, but it’s not sustainable.

Jennifer Lewke sent the governor’s office a number of her stories about the staffing shortages across our healthcare system following the press conference as the governor requested and got the following statement from a spokesman:

"Long-standing health care staffing challenges predated the vaccine mandate, and we have seen staffing levels at nursing homes statewide return to pre-mandate levels with hospital staffing not far behind. Governor Hochul previously announced several bold steps to alleviate potential health care while maintaining care, and the Department of Health will continue to monitor, provide guidance and help troubleshoot staffing concerns. Most importantly, the mandate worked, improving vaccination rates in health care workers and protecting vulnerable New Yorkers."