A team of military doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and medics began working alongside staff at Coney Island Hospital on Monday after going through orientation and training over the weekend. The team will help relieve the overburdened hospital, which has been hit hard by the current coronavirus surge driven by the omicron variant.
“My doctors and nurses have been working without vacation, often on very long shifts, and so we're incredibly grateful now to have this support,” Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, which runs Coney Island Hospital, said at a press conference outside the facility on Monday morning.
The zip codes encompassing Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay have among the highest hospitalization rates for the coronavirus in the five boroughs. About a week ago, Coney Island Hospital was caring for 220 patients with COVID-19–only about 20% fewer than the hospital had in April 2020. New York City hospitals have also been experiencing staffing shortages in recent weeks, largely because of employees being out sick with COVID-19.
President Joe Biden first announced that Coney Island Hospital and five other overwhelmed medical centers across the country would be receiving reinforcements from the Department of Defense on January 13th. At that point, the number of daily COVID-19 cases citywide had already started to drop from a winter peak at the beginning of the month and the numbers have continued to go down since then.
But Coney Island Hospital leaders said they are not yet out of the woods and still need assistance. As of Sunday, only 27 out of 283 staffed beds were available at the medical center, and over the past week, only an average of 9% of beds had been left unoccupied, according to the New York State Department of Health. Likewise, all of the intensive care beds were full, and the ICU had experienced an average capacity of 97% over the previous seven days.
Locally, we’re still very much in the thick of this wave.
Katz said the high hospitalization rate among residents of Coney Island and nearby South Brooklyn neighborhoods is primarily due to the “significantly older” demographic of the area.
“There are a lot of people who have underlying congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. And then if they get COVID, it pushes them over the line,” Katz said.
Citywide, hospitals have more open beds, on average, with 20% of all staffed beds free and 17% of ICU beds unoccupied. As of Saturday, there were 4,711 New York City residents in the hospital with COVID-19, which is still much higher than last year’s peak. The number of New Yorkers staying in intensive care units has plateaued at around 750 people since the first week of January. Last year, these worst-of-the-worst cases peaked at about 770 people, but then almost immediately began to decline.
“Locally, we’re still very much in the thick of this wave,” Svetlana Lipyanksaya, CEO of Coney Island Hospital, said at the press conference Monday.
She added that the military personnel will “be covering for some staff who are going to get some much-needed and much-awaited time off.”
Katz acknowledged that some who are in the hospital are “incidental” coronavirus patients who come in because they got in a car accident or twisted their ankle and then tested positive for the virus. But he said that’s not the group that’s driving up hospitalization rates in Coney Island.
The military team will be working in the emergency department and other units at Coney Island Hospital for at least a month, with the possibility of staying longer if needed.