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Hospitals turn to extraordinary measures to increase capacity, supplies

More U.S. hospitals are feeling the pressure and gravity of the spread of COVID-19. In New York state, hospitalizations rose 40 percent and 100 patients died in a single day. As the influx grows, some hospitals and medical practitioners are taking extraordinary steps to cope and prepare for the worsening crisis. William Brangham talks to Stony Brook University Hospital’s Carol Gomes.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hospitals in more and more cities are feeling the pressure and consequences of the spread of COVID-19 cases.

    New York state is still at the center of some of the worst of it. Hospitalizations shot up 40 percent in one day, and there were 100 deaths there in just about 24 hours.

    William Brangham gets a view from the front lines of what's being done to adjust to a worsening situation.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right.

    Some hospitals are already being overrun, and many are taking extraordinary steps to prepare for the wave of patients to come.

    Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island, New York, is one of those places. They have been asked by Governor Andrew Cuomo to double their bed capacity in just a few weeks.

    Carol Gomes is the CEO of that hospital.

    Ms. Gomes, thank you very much for being here.

    I wonder if you could just start off by giving us a sense of, how is your hospital, how's your system doing right now?

  • Carol Gomes:

    So, clearly, with this pandemic under way and the apex of the storm at us, approaching us quickly in the next 14 to 21 days, there is a concerted effort of focus, a concerted effort to address safety, and a concerted effort to take care of our patients.

    It's a very serious nature, but we're tackling this with all of our might.

  • William Brangham:

    And, right now, can you give us a sense of how many coronavirus, how many COVID-19 patients you currently have?

  • Carol Gomes:

    Sure.

    Well, each day, obviously, it escalates, and the numbers that we received this morning could potentially be different than the ones we have currently now or in the next five minutes.

    But last we heard, there were 70-plus cases positive. And we have many persons under investigation who are pending laboratory tests. And the numbers continue to escalate each day.

    But here we are constructing tents in a parking lot, a large tent. We are able to see hundreds of patients coming through, particularly for COVID testing.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, I know that you have a relatively large hospital. The idea that you're building a tent out in the parking lot seems to signal the depth of how serious this is.

  • Carol Gomes:

    This is extremely serious.

    The governor of New York asked each CEO of every hospital in New York state to increase its surge capacity by at least 50 percent, and then, subsequently, a day or two later, requested for all of us to increase our capacity by an additional 100 percent.

    So, we have 624 beds. That means we need to create another 624 beds. And so, when you only have a limited amount of space, you have to start to be creative.

  • William Brangham:

    I have been talking with doctors and hospital officials at several different locations this week.

    And I have been hearing a real sense of anxiety and concern about this — the storm that in some places is already there in certain hospitals, and the storm that is coming to others.

    I'm curious how your staff is doing. How are people holding up under all this?

  • Carol Gomes:

    I can't be more proud of our Stony Brook medicine team. They come in every day.

    They are serious-minded. They are laser-focused. We know we have a job to do. We know we have to care for these patients who will be coming in by the droves, and we will do everything we can to ensure their safety and the safety of our team.

    We have to prepare for this surge in every way, shape and form possible, staffing, supplies, and space. And so everyone is completely laser-focused on this task.

  • William Brangham:

    Do you have enough supplies right now? We have certainly been reading about the shortage of N95 masks, the shortage of ventilators, the shortage of protective gowns.

    Do you feel like you have enough equipment to do the job safely that you need to do?

  • Carol Gomes:

    Well, I don't believe we're any different than any other hospital in the United States.

    We're all clamoring for supplies, N95s, face shields, the like. So, we have the good fortune of professors and researchers and scientists who are on campus at Stony Brook University. We have folks who are working on using 3-D printers to create face shields. So this is really an enormous effort and everyone is involved.

    We also found a link on how to make hand sanitizer and sent it to our chemistry department. And, lo and behold, they started making gallons and gallons of hand sanitizer.

    So, yes, the supplies are limited, but we're certainly not waiting for them to come to us. We're taking matters into our own hands, as best as we can, to control what is in our control.

  • William Brangham:

    I think anyone would look at what you're doing, and salute the ingenuity and the — taking this on yourself.

    But it does seem like that this is a sign of something very, very serious, where you guys are having to make supplies that, just a month ago, most hospitals took for granted and took as just that's just regular equipment that we have.

    You now have to make it yourselves.

  • Carol Gomes:

    Yes. Yes.

    But when you don't have a choice in the matter, you have to take action. And that's precisely what we're doing to ensure the safety of our team.

  • William Brangham:

    We know that the governor of New York has asked everyone who is not involved in what are called essential services to largely stay at home.

    What is your sense about how the New York, the Long Island community is heeding that request? Are people following those recommendations?

  • Carol Gomes:

    Well, you know, I have been spending most of my time in the hospital, so it's hard to be able to say firsthand.

    I certainly do hope people are heeding those warnings, as it will give us the opportunity to flatten the curve and potentially slow that surge of patients. And that's our goal, is to flatten that curve and prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Carol Gomes, CEO of Stony Brook University Hospital, thank you very much.

    And best of luck to all of you out there.

  • Carol Gomes:

    Thank you.

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