Monroe County looking for ways to help ease nursing home bed shortage

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The flu is here early this year and it is spreading fast, which is causing major concern among local health care leaders. 

All of our local hospitals are already at or well over capacity and an early flu season is likely to make things worse. 

“We’re seeing an increase in flu cases this week that we don’t typically see until December,” explains Monroe County Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza. “And the supply of vaccine right now far outpaces the demand.”

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The rise is coming at a time when hospitals are already overloaded.

“This morning, we had 86 patients admitted to the hospital but needing to stay in the emergency room and receive care there awaiting a bed in the hospital itself,” says Dr. Michael Apostolokas, the Chief Medical Officer at Strong Hospital. 

The situation isn’t much better at RGH

“A lot of patients are waiting in our emergency departments and it’s a challenge,” adds Dr. Robert Mayo, the Chief Medical Officer for Rochester Regional Health. “Our staff is working very hard, around the clock to ensure patients get timely care but patients at times are waiting longer than we would like.”

If things continue to keep this pace, both health systems say they’ll have to consider whether to pause elective surgeries.

“If we decide to close our ambulatory surgery and bring those staff in, some ambulatory surgeries are necessary and if people wait and they can’t get their surgeries they are harmed, “ explains Dr. Apostolokas. “If we close clinics and bring staff in, that may cause more people to end up in the hospital so it’s not as easy as just saying well let’s close one service whatever service you don’t provide any more as a service that our community needs.”

On top of a surge in viruses, the other issue causing major back-ups at the hospitals is one we’ve told you about before, the lack of available nursing home beds.  In October 2020, Strong Hospital had an average of 20-25 people waiting to be discharged to a nursing home. 

In October 2021, the average jumped to about 50 and now in October 2022, there are currently 100 patients at Strong who don’t medically need to be there, but require a nursing home bed that is not currently available. So they can’t be moved out, which means other patients can’t be moved up to higher floors and out of the emergency room hallways. 

Monroe County executive Adam Bello says he’s working on what he hopes will be a solution.

“It’s like a grant to the nursing homes to help underwrite the expense of them taking those patients into the nursing homes that right now are financially strapped,” he explained of his plan. 

Bello wants to use COVID recovery money to essentially entice nursing homes to open more beds.

“If there are nursing homes in the community which we know there are, that have the capacity they just don’t have the financial wherewithal to take additional residents, this is that opportunity for them to be able to take those residents,” he says. He has submitted the plan to the Monroe County legislature for approval. 

While there may be some nursing homes who are able to free some beds, staffing is still the major issue.  Local nursing homes were hit hard by the COVID vaccine mandate, early retirements and burnout and while there are a number of new pipeline programs hoping to get more people interested in health care jobs, it will take time to rebuild the workforce.