The executive order Gov. Andrew Cuomo said yesterday he was going to sign requiring upstate hospitals to ship some of their ventilators and personal protective gear downstate has caused a firestorm of opposition in Western New York.
Elected leaders and aspiring candidates have weighed in with their objections and social media posts have exploded in debates about the policy.
The rising consensus is that once again, Cuomo is putting the needs, desires, and priorities of urban downstate residents over their rural fellow citizens.
The Batavian made multiple attempts to reach out to the governor's office to ask four questions we thought might help clarify things for readers:
- We want to know: Who determines and defines "excess"? Our public health director, Paul Pettit, said yesterday that between Orleans and Genesee Counties, there are 11 ventilators. While none are currently being used for COVID-19 patients, he doesn't know how many are being used to treat other respiratory illnesses. He is concerned that when the coronavirus outbreak reaches its peak here, local hospitals will need 100 ventilators. "That's why we don't feel we have an excess that we can offer up to downstate," Pettit said.
- As for PPE, there are ongoing concerns about a shortage of gear in our own county (though another shipment arrived yesterday), so the same question applies: How and who determines if there is an excess of PPE in Genesee County?
- What guarantee can the governor offer that if ventilators are needed here, that there will be an immediate and timely backfill of any ventilators removed from our area?
- What is the calculation, has one been done, or what is the projection that we can rely on, that will assure us that downstate's apex will subside before one in GLOW begins?
Late today, a member of the press office responded and pointed us to comments by Cuomo that he said should satisfy the first question.
To the first question, what defines "excess"? Today in his briefing Cuomo said, "So, what do we do? We find what equipment we have, we use it the best we can. If you ask hospitals today what ventilators do you have that are unused and available that they don’t need in the short term and take 20% of that number of available ventilators, that’s 500 ventilators."
To the overall scope of the questions, the aide pointed to Cuomo's discussion about Oregon assisting New York in its time of need.
The State of Oregon has lent us 140 ventilators. It was kind, it was smart, stop the virus here. It's better for the state of Oregon, it's better for the nation. Their curve comes after ours. We'll return their 140 ventilators, and there's never been a discussion, but frankly, I know New Yorkers and I know New Yorkers' generosity. We will turn it double fold because that's who we are and that's what we believe. So, stop the fire in New York, kind, generous, also smart.
The governor's office estimates that New York needs 17,000 ventilators total. It's unclear how many the federal government has or will send. There are efforts underway to hook up two patients at a time to a single ventilator. They are also efforts to use anesthesia machines and a machine called a BiPAP (similar to a CPAP used to treat sleep apnea but adjusts to the inhale and exhale of the person wearing the mask).
Also, Cuomo announced today that Joe Tsai and Clara Tsai and Jack Ma, co-owners of Alibaba (China's largest e-commerce company) have purchased 1,000 ventilators and are sending them to New York.
The news about the number of ventilators Cuomo plans to transfer from Upstate to Downstate and the gifts from Oregon and China is a level of detail not part of Cuomo's announcement yesterday to take ventilators from Upstate.
Cuomo's statement on Friday:
I'm not going to get into a situation where we're running out of ventilators and people are dying because there are no ventilators but there are hospitals in other parts of the state that have ventilators that they're not using. I'm just not going to allow us to go there. I think it would be wholly irresponsible. I'm going to sign an executive order that says the state can take ventilators and PPE from institutions that don't need them now and redeploy them to other parts of the state and other hospitals that do need them. Those institutions will either get their ventilator back or they will be reimbursed and paid for their ventilator so they can buy a new ventilator.
That caused alarm bells in some quarters. Even Paul Pettit, in his mild-mannered way, expressed concern.
"Obviously, taking and removing any level of our ventilators or taking and removing any of our PPE that we have from our region or any region in our state is something that we have grave concerns about," Pettit said, sharing that Dan Ireland at UMMC shared his concern.
Noting that with COVID-19 cases are on the rise locally, our community needs its emergency supplies and staff.
"The last thing we want to do is get in a situation where our availability of PPE, our availability of respirators, any of those things, are not available for us when our peak, when our apex comes in the next two or three weeks," Pettit said. "I understand what he governor is trying to accomplish, that they have a need down there right now but I don’t want our communities to be in a very precarious and unfortunate situation that when ours comes we don’t have the type and level of respirators and PPE we need to respond effectively to help keep our folks, our residents in our counties safe. So, it is a big concern."
We asked Ireland to comment and said UMMC is working to ensure the hospital remains ready for whatever may come.
Rochester Regional Health, including UMMC, is working collaboratively with local, regional and state agencies to ensure that necessary resources are available where and when they are needed to care for all patients who require hospital care. At this time, UMMC has not been asked to divert equipment or resources downstate and we stand ready to serve our community as we have been for over 100 years. We are grateful that the residents of our community are flattening the curve by staying home so that, together, we can stop the spread of the virus and keep our community at-large in good health.
Assemblyman Steve Hawley yesterday, blasted Cuomo's order.
"It’s the worst possible management of this crisis I have seen thus far, and I am asking the governor to rescind his Executive Order," Hawley said. "Upstate and Western New York lives matter.”
All of the Republican candidates for the NY-27's congressional race chimed in.
Most notably, Chris Jacobs, who is currently a state senator and the GOP-endorsed candidate in the special election to replace convicted criminal Chris Collins (the special election has been moved from April to June 23, the same date as the GOP primary), put out a tweet yesterday that claimed Buffalo General Hospital had already been forced to surrender 30 ventilators.
The tweet was later deleted.
Kaleida Health issued the following statement about "social media rumors."
Michael P. Hughes, Chief of Staff, Kaleida Health said, “The rumors that have circulated on social media are completely false. The National Guard was not at Buffalo General Medical Center or any of our other hospitals. Nor were ventilators or supplies taken from us. This type of misinformation only causes further panic and chaos in a time of great uncertainty. That said, we still vehemently oppose the Governor's executive order to take 20% of upstate hospitals' equipment and supplies. We will continue to fight this in an effort to protect our patients as well as our physicians, nurses, and staff during this pandemic."
Stefan Mychajliw, one of the candidates challenging Jacobs in the GOP primary put out a press release attacking Jacobs over the tweet.
“People are scared," Mychajliw said. "Our community is panicking. Young and old are fearful of dying. Many people lost their jobs. The last thing we need is someone falsely fanning the flames of discord just to score a few cheap political points in the middle of a campaign. Chris Jacobs must apologize for this false, reckless and irresponsible claim.”
The Batavian emailed the Jacob's campaign about the tweet, at a time when we were still trying to confirm it (as the screenshot above shows, we did find the original tweet) but did not get a response.
Jacobs had earlier put out a press release about the governor's executive order.
“The Governor has made it very clear that NYC is the starting point for COVID-19, but that a wave could very well travel across our state and hit Western New York," Jacobs said. "By taking away our vital medical supplies, the Governor is directly putting all Western New Yorkers at risk. When we don’t have the resources to fight COVID-19 here, we will lose Western New York lives.”
Beth Parlato, also a GOP challenger in the primary, responded to the governor's executive order by launching an only petition at wnylivesmatter.com/.
“Governor Cuomo issued an executive order that he is taking ventilators from upstate New York to bring to New York City," Parlato said. "He is deploying the National Guard to remove essential supplies from our hospitals to take downstate. We need these ventilators in Western New York to fight COVID-19! WNY medical professionals have been working tirelessly over the past few weeks, and they are running out of supplies. It is critical that our needs are considered."
With all of the announced GOP candidates for the NY-27 weighing in on the executive order, we sought a comment from Nate McMurray, the endorsed Democratic candidate in the special election and did not get a response.
While many of Cuomo's long-standing critics in WNY lined up to call Cuomo dictatorial, it hasn't been a sentiment that has been universally shared among conservative WNYers.
Republican operative and former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo, for example, has posted several tweets supporting Cuomo's order.
UPDATE 12:21 a.m.: McMurray provided the following statement:
The order reads, “from institutions that don't currently need them and redeploy the equipment to other hospitals with the highest need.” Some have tried to use scare tactics, to divide us, saying this means the governor will try to raid hospitals with ventilators already in use. My opponent, Chris Jacobs, lied saying Buffalo General Hospital was already raided, but later deleted his comment.
This is a time for bravery and cooperation, not scare tactics. Oregon sent ventilators to NYC, yet officials in Western New York are reluctant. It makes no sense. We are in this together. New York City’s fight is our fight. We need to try and stop the fire there before it spreads here. It’s one state, one country, and within our means, we must assist with the hope that Albany and New York will share other resources later. We do not want to go this alone, nor can we.
The real issue is our national response. Our President tells us we have enough tests and ventilators every day. Clearly we do not. It’s sad that it’s state vs state, county vs county because we have no national plan or vision.