Amy Loeb is the deputy executive director of Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead. She answered questions by phone on Friday morning.
Q: What are you seeing in the last couple of days, as far as the number of cases coming into the hospital? Is it increasing significantly now?
It is, although we are not seeing the [number of] cases that they’re seeing farther west. I’m assuming that’s related to the population density differences. And people really adhering to the quarantine and isolation — people being really great citizens out here and doing what they need to do, and I think that’s really helping.
Q: You do believe that’s reflected in the numbers you’re seeing?
I mean, we’re seeing increases — don’t get me wrong. But … we’ve already seen 10 people discharged from the hospital who came in with COVID-19. So that’s very positive.
Q: They’ve been through a 14-day period and gotten through the virus, and have come through to the other side, with immunity?
Well, it’s not necessarily that they had a full 14 days. But they no longer require hospitalization. They’ve come through to the other side of requiring hospitalization.
Q: Are hospitals mostly providing supportive care rather than treatment?
It’s supportive care. We talk about things like oxygen, respiratory treatments, IV fluids. We are closely watching the recommendations about the medications you’re hearing about, I’m sure. We’re watching the evidence around that closely. …
We are following the recommendations and protocols — and we are seeing some people get better. So that’s very positive. It is definitely the case that our more fragile population, older folks with other conditions, co-morbid conditions, have a harder time when they get sick with COVID-19. So we’re doing our best to support them as well.
We are fortunate that we opened up our new ICU, which more than doubled our intensive care capacity in the hospital. Fortunately, we remain very, very stable in terms of ICU capacity and bed capacity.
Q: What is your capacity now?
We have, today, and as per the governor’s request for increased capacity, 28 ICU beds available. That is at the governor’s request.
Q: How does that compare to normal?
Normally, we have 12.
Q: You have taken steps to use the former Mercy High School campus to expand the overall hospital capacity in response to the governor’s request, correct?
Yes, if necessary — it has not become necessary at this point in time.
Q: What’s the preparation work for that? Do you actually set up facilities there? Or is it a matter of stockpiling and waiting to see if you need the space?
Yeah, it’s more waiting. We’re very agile in responding. The models now kind of tell us where we’re heading. We have not had to pull that trigger. But we’re watching it. Every four hours, we’re watching what’s happening with testing … If it need be, we will pull that trigger.
Q: From your information, what does it look like the timing will be for the peak of this? Will it be two weeks? A week? Are we ahead or behind the rest of the region and state?
I wish I could tell you. I don’t know the answer. I wish I knew.
There are a couple of different ways to look at it. We can say it seems to be moving east, based on what we’re seeing in the city, and then Nassau County, and now Suffolk County. Of course, we had a first case in Greenport, but we have not seen a huge impact at the hospital from that at this point in time.
So whether it’s going to progress east, or it’s going to follow the population who have started, over the past week or two, to come east to their summer homes …
I think the most important thing, and what will be on our side, is that people maintain their sequestering in their homes. That will be the biggest benefit to us all. And that’s what will tell us, what will show us, how helpful that can be.
Q: From your observations, has the South Fork in particular been less affected than some communities? There’s obviously a growing number, a significant number, but it seems to be less than in some communities to the west, and even on the North Fork.
When you have a cluster in a community, that is what’s going to drive up the numbers. A few weeks ago, when you had events happening, or people congregating, where a few people get infected, that’s how these clusters bubble up.
And so communities that have been fortunate not to be impacted by that before the sequestering was requested will do better.
I’m hopeful that if we don’t see, in the next week or two, a big blip anywhere on the South Fork or in other areas that have not seen a lot of activity — I’m hopeful that, if people respect the request to stay home, and the mandate, really, at this point not to go to work — that we will maintain what we’ve seen. Which is, in those areas, not a big spike.
Q: How are you set for protective supplies for your staff — gloves, masks, etc.?
We are very fortunate: We are in very good shape. Being part of Northwell [Health], Northwell was very proactive very early on in gathering the supplies. So we are in good shape. Our staff are covered. We’re being very, very responsible with conservation, in not being wasteful — the staff have been wonderful about that. But we have what we need.
Q: What about supplies for patients, particularly ventilators?
So, right now, we have adequate ventilators. And if we stay on this trajectory, we’ll be just fine.
Q: But the concern is, that might not be what happens …
That’s a grander concern for New York State. That’s the big picture. But we’ve so far been OK.
Q: How about staffing levels? Have you lost much of your staff to sickness or quarantine?
We have lost a few, but we have been, actually, very fortunate in that as well. We have furloughed employees, asking them to stay home, at the ready. They are ready for us when we need them.
We canceled elective surgeries weeks ago now, so that frees up much of our operating room staff, recovery room staff … they are ready to be deployed if needed.
Q: Were the furloughs also an economic decision?
No, this is a paid furlough.
Q: So, is it for their safety? Keeping them at home?
Yes, it is. It’s to preserve as much of our staff … although, again, with the proper [personal protective equipment] — I mean, again, anything could change, but we haven’t seen any dramatic increases in anybody getting exposed or sick at the hospital. We’ve been fortunate.
But, yes, that’s the point — the point is, when we need you, we expect that you’ll come, and we’ll get you ready for that. But right now, while we’re stable, we will have them safe at home.
Q: How is staff morale? It’s a stressful time for everyone who works at the hospital, I’m sure.
I’m “rounding” constantly, Andy [Mitchell, the hospital’s president and CEO] is rounding constantly — all of the senior leadership were out there talking to the staff. I have to say, I am inspired by them every day. They are positive.
There is a big change in routine for some of our units. We do have two units that are dedicated to COVID-19 patients. So it’s a big change in routine, and there is just constant reinforcement — they’re getting it now, they’re getting more comfortable. And I’m extraordinarily proud of them. They’ve been great. They’ve been communicating with families. … They’re doing a great job.
There are some days when there is more stress than others. But overall? Remarkable.
And a big part of that is the community outpouring — setting up “meal trains” coming in, bringing in meals for the staff. They’re getting well-fed. Water has been delivered. We’ve been keeping them well hydrated and nourished. And I think that’s helped a lot.
We have a wall in our lobby that’s filled with [artwork by] kids from the community, just giving them encouragement.
So I think the community outpouring, and keeping up communication and being transparent, and keeping them safe with PPE has really helped to keep them on a positive note.
Q: What can people do to help Peconic Bay Medical Center?
… Just the positive, positive vibes. The Facebook messages, those letters — they really uplift the staff.
And, most of all, continue to stay home until we know that this curve has flattened and started to go on a down trend. That is the biggest thing they can do. If we see, as hospitals in New York City are seeing now, that influx of patients who require intensive care, and ventilators, that is the thing that will challenge health care providers the most.
Everybody doing their part to avoid that, by staying home, is helping us.
Some other ways you can help the hospital:
To support the “meal train,” which delivers water and meals to medical teams twice a day, visithttps://mealtrain.com/yo31r1.
Donated surgical masks, goggles and N95 masks can be dropped off at the front of the hospital, with security, or in a bag at the front door.
Kids (and adults) who would like to submit artwork (no larger than 8.5 inches by 14 inches) for patients who cannot receive visitors, and for staff, can mail them to: Peconic Bay Medical Center, Healthcare Heroes, 1300 Roanoke Avenue, Riverhead, NY 11901. Drawings also can be dropped at the front entrance with security.
Retired health care providers who can help, call the human resources department at 631-548-6340.
Donations can be made at https://pbmcfoundation.thankyou4caring.org/pages/donation.