QUEENS, N.Y. - During the coronavirus peak, Northwell’s Long Island Jewish Forest Hills expanded to about 280 patients and shifted roughly 500 patients to other Northwell locations, said Dr. Teresa Amato, director of emergency medicine.
“Obviously, not that we would ever wish to be in the epicenter in the middle of a pandemic ever again, however, a lot of lessons [were] learned,” Amato said.
They are lessons that help hospital leaders prepare for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases now. The area that was once considered part of the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic is now a hots pot being monitored by state and city officials with restrictions on schools, businesses, and gatherings starting this week.
The hospital is not currently seeing an increase in the number of COVID-related admissions, nor an uptick in the hospital’s positive test results. Currently, fewer than 10 patients with the virus are admitted to LIJ Forest Hills, according to Amato. But staff is not waiting for the number to grow to develop a surge plan.
“Once we started to have a higher number of patients, it exponentially grew,” Amato said of the COVID-19 patients in the spring. “We don’t want to be waiting for that, we’d rather be overprepared than underprepared.”
Once activated, the surge plan allows the hospital to share its patient load with other nearby hospital locations and expand its bed capacity. There is not an absolute number of COVID-19 patients that will trigger LIJ Forest Hill’s surge plan; rather, administrators will consider the total number of patients in the emergency department, patient type, and the severity of illness.
“You need staff, you need space, you need equipment,” explained Amato. “What we looked at is when a certain amount of equipment would be used, when a certain amount of rooms would be used, when a certain amount of staff ratio, that’s really where we would trigger the surge plan,” Amato explained.
And while the surge plan is developed, ready for activation when needed, Amato does not expect to see high numbers of COVID-19 patients like there were in early spring. She believes Queens residents will continue wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene, and maintaining social distance.
“This is the time when we really have to hunker down; we crushed the curve before, we can continue to crush it. We have to stay vigilant,” she said.