More patients, fewer employees: Omicron pushes New York hospitals to Brink

A Brooklyn Health and other hospital systems have also sought help from state officials. Government Kathy Hochul, who declared a health emergency in late November, has authorized nursing students and foreign doctors to assist during the current wave. The state has also deployed 120 National Guard members to nursing homes and sent federal teams to hospitals across the state that were going through their own crises.

The state has not sent reinforcements to hospitals in the downstate, Mr. Raske.

Jill Montag, a Health Department spokeswoman, didn’t dispute that, but she said the state helped hospitals coordinate their efforts and secured 50 New York City ambulance teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency; 25 arrive on Saturday.

The problem for community hospitals has been compounded by the way the Omicron wave has spread, starting in the wealthier parts of Manhattan and then moving to low-income neighborhoods that rely on safety net hospitals. This week, Covid positivity rates were above 40 percent in the South Bronx and parts of Brooklyn and Queens. On average, about 37,000 new cases are reported per day across the city.

Long-term inequalities in health care mean that patients in poor areas also arrive at hospitals with more pre-existing conditions, and vaccination rates in these areas tend to be lower, contributing to more serious illness. In the Brooklyn zip code where Brookdale is, about 2,500 people tested positive for the virus last week, with a 43 percent positivity rate.

Not all safety net hospitals say they are stretched to the limit. The area around St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx nearly had the highest test positivity rate in the city this week, over 46 percent. But officials said they were dealing with the higher volume, even with 7 to 9 percent of the workforce living with Covid-19 or caring for sick relatives.

Not all hospital intensive care beds are full, and of the 30 patients currently in intensive care in St. Barnabas, only 10 have Covid-19, said Dr. Edward Telzak, head of internal medicine. “Covid-19 is not overwhelming us,” he added.

It’s different at the pediatric emergency room at Montefiore Hospital, a large nonprofit hospital in the Bronx. Julian Grant, a registered nurse, said the small emergency room was often packed with up to 80 patients, with just two nurses to assist them.

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