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State to announce plan for reopening elective surgeries

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced that a plan to gradually reinstate elective surgeries at hospitals across the state is forthcoming.

During his daily press briefing in Albany, Cuomo acknowledged the financial hardship upstate hospitals are facing as a result of state guidance on canceling elective surgeries. He said the state will release a plan Tuesday for gradually reinstating hospitals’ abilities to conduct elective surgeries based on the infection rate of each area.

“We stopped elective surgeries for all hospitals in the state,” Cuomo said. “That was one of the ways we increased capacity. Now we’re at a point where some of the upstate hospitals have significant financial burdens because they’re not doing the elective surgeries, which is one of the places where they make money, frankly.”

Rural North Country hospitals — which serve areas with more low-income or elderly patients that have Medicare or Medicaid, which have lower reimbursement rates than private insurance — often rely on elective surgeries and related services to break even. With the cancellation of those surgeries and a resulting decline in services like medical imaging, hospitals around the region are facing losses in the millions of dollars. At the same time, the state has asked hospitals to increase their capacity by at least 50% in an effort to expand the number of beds available to an anticipated influx of COVID-19 patients.

Faced with these financial challenges, hospitals around the region have either furloughed or laid off parts of their staff.

The St. Lawrence Health System announced Friday it would furlough at least 400 workers, 20% of its staff. Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown also announced last week it would furlough 230 people, approximately 10% of its employees. Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg placed nearly 70 employees, about 8% of its 850-member staff, on unpaid leave this month. On Wednesday, Carthage Area Hospital began putting an undisclosed number of employees on unpaid leave. Elizabethtown Community Hospital has furloughed 25 people. Two weeks ago, Hudson Headwaters Health Network, based in Warren County, furloughed 85 non-clinical staff members. Glens Falls Hospital has furloughed 335 employees until it can do elective surgeries again.

Adirondack Health, the largest private employer in the Tri-Lakes, has not laid off or involuntarily furloughed any of its workers, according to spokesman Matt Scollin. Employees were offered a voluntary furlough option, which some took. Adirondack Health declined comment for this article.

Cuomo said he has heard from upstate hospital administrators who have asked if they can use vacant beds that aren’t being used by COVID-19 patients to restart elective surgeries.

“We have been looking at that,” he said

“We’re going to announce a plan tomorrow (Tuesday) that we believe provides for that and has some variables that takes the coronavirus rate and compares it to the rate in that region, and the potential for a high point in that region.”

Current projections indicate that upstate communities may have not reached their apex yet, according to Cuomo.

“We’re watching those curves in different parts of the state,” he said.

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