BUFFALO — The recent surge in cases due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has overwhelmed hospitals across New York, yet CSEA members are still on the front lines providing services.

Kristina Landy, a CSEA Erie County Local member and senior respiratory therapist at Erie County Medical Center (ECMC), is on the front line caring for hospitalized COVID patients.

Landy provides direct care for patients who require respiratory treatment, including managing ventilators, high flow nasal cannula administration and other breathing treatments among many other job functions.

“The biggest challenge we face right now is the sheer number of patients requiring beds in the hospital,” Landy said. “While ICU admissions are down and cases may be a little less severe, the number of COVID cases requiring treatment is up, and those patients are staying longer, which has more than doubled the number of beds needed.”

Combined with staffing shortages due to staff illnesses, retirements and leaving their jobs for other reasons, ECMC has become overwhelmed with patients and providing quality care has proven challenging.

“We’re all exhausted and burnt out; you see it in everyone’s faces,” said Landy. “We’ve had five to six people out for five to 10 days at the same time due to COVID in our department of 40 [workers], which is a significant amount.”

“Any day you walk into the ER, there are gurneys all down the hallway and nowhere to put anybody,” said Landy. “Earlier during the pandemic, cases were manageable and could be sent to one floor, but with the number of cases coming in, that’s become impossible, meaning COVID is on every floor of the hospital. This puts staff and other patients at more risk, despite the rigorous safety protocols in place.”

Landy noted that Erie County Medical Center’s emergency room was expanded shortly before the pandemic, but even with greater capacity, there are 30 to 40 people waiting in the ER for a bed, which backs everything up.

Patients who require longer term care occupy beds that are needed, which Landy noted forces decisions to be made about who needs to stay and who should be discharged and less likely to return for more care.

Landy said ambulance crews were brought in from Long Island to address a shortage of EMTs. At times, ambulance crews could end up waiting up to 12 hours in the emergency room with patients who required care because they couldn’t be left alone.

“I would say the vast majority of patients coming in are unvaccinated,” said Landy. “Get your vaccine! It’s the best way to avoid the hospital.”

Landy also expressed the hope that people will continue to go into health care so there will be more help down the road when it is needed.

“The most important thing I would want the public to know right now is that we’re doing our very best to help everyone, but we’re so short staffed and have so many more patients that it takes longer and longer to get to people who need our assistance,” Landy said. “Please try to be patient and remember we want to help you. It’s just taking far longer than all of us would like right now.”

— Mathew L. Cantore


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