GLOVERSVILLE – Nathan Littauer Hospital was forced to divert patients to other hospitals Wednesday evening until noon on Thursday.
Local government and hospital officials said the diversion was due to capacity problems and staffing shortages; not any local resurgence of COVID-19 cases.
The Fulton County Emergency Management Office alerted the public to the patient diversion Wednesday via a post to its Facebook page, which as of Thursday night had been shared 409 times and received at least 50 comments.
Fulton County Emergency Management Services Coordinator Steve Santa Maria said Thursday that his county’s Ambulance Incentive Plan, approved by the county Board of Supervisors in February, provides his office with real-time data regarding all of the ambulance calls in the county. He said he saw no uptick of COVID-19-related calls or any specific illness or accident that coincided with the hospital diversion.
“They had nine people in the emergency room waiting for beds, and they were out of beds, and they didn’t want to bring any more people in, because they were out of beds,” Santa Maria said. “On the ambulance side, we’re not seeing a huge uptick with COVID. I mean, it’s still lingering out there by all means, but nothing I think that would contribute to this.”
Geoff Peck, a member of the Nathan Littauer Foundation’s board of directors, answered questions about the hospital diversion via text message Thursday.
“[Patient volume was due to a] Combination of conditions, very few COVID admissions, other respiratory ailments continue to be a top cause,” wrote Peck. “NLH went on diversion Wednesday evening due to a high inpatient census, and heavy [Emergency Department] volume. We experienced a capacity issue where the number of patients holding for beds in the emergency department exceeded the planned discharges for the next Thursday morning. At noon today the diversion was lifted and Littauer returned to normal operation.”
Peck said the hospital does not generally release specific numbers regarding patient volume, and did not provide numbers related to the hospital’s staff, but confirmed staffing was a factor.
“Staffing always plays into our decision for diversion,” Peck wrote. “Our situation last night was related to an already high inpatient census, an unusually high volume of patients requiring admission 16% [of emergency room patients] admitted, as compared to a daily average of less than 10%, and staffing shortage exacerbated by weather related call outs.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “HHS Protect Public Data Hub” publishes seven-day average hospital capacity data — available at public-data-hub-dhhs.hub.arcgis.com.
According to the HHS Protect Public Data Hub map, during the seven days prior to Monday, 73% of the inpatient beds at Nathan Littauer Hospital were occupied, 3% of them with COVID-19 patients, and 66% of the hospitals ICU beds were occupied, but only 1% of those were used by COVID-19 patients, with 0% of the hospitals ventilators used by COVID-19 patients.
Santa Maria said Wednesday was not the first time Nathan Littauer Hospital has had to divert patient calls this year, and thinks the local labor shortage is the primary reason.
“It’s an overall system problem, the lack of healthcare workers, the lack of people working in our ambulance corps — it seems like nobody wants these jobs anymore,” he said. “We have a lot of ambulances available to us, but not enough [workers to staff them and] fill the seats for example, and Nathan Littauer seems to be no different. They are running razor thin on their staffing, from time to time, and that doesn’t help, and in this case there was an overabundance of patients for the number of beds that they had.”
According to data from the state Department of Education, as of Jan. 1, 2022, Fulton County had a lower rate of registered professional nurses per 1,000 residents at 12.17, than its neighboring counties: Montgomery 15.36, Saratoga 17.34, Schenectady 17.59 and Albany 16.9.