BUFFALO, N.Y. — On Friday Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he will sign an executive order to allow New York State to take ventilators and PPE from facilities who aren't in urgent need of them and disperse them to facilities who are harder hit.
The majority of the COVID-19 cases are in New York City and the surrounding counties.
The State will be mobilizing the National Guard to pick up and distribute supplies to and from hospitals in need. Cuomo said resources will be shifted all across the state depending on the need of the equipment and PPE.
"I am signing an Executive Order allowing State to take ventilators and PPE which will be returned or reimbursed," Cuomo said. "I apologize to those institutions."
In issuing his executive order, Cuomo continues to exercise the extraordinary new executive powers that were granted to him by the New York State Legislature as part of a funding bill lawmakers were asked to approve to meet the state's initial response to coronavirus last month.
"There could be several hundred excess ventilators in hospitals that don't need them right now," he said.
Cuomo expects some hospitals to take this up in court.
"If they want to sue me for borrowing ventilators to save lives, let them sue me," he said.
According to Cuomo, there are 102,863 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York State, a more than 10,000-case increase from Thursday.
The governor also claimed that there are 14,810 people hospitalized throughout New York State, including 3,731 ICU patients; 8,886 patients have been discharged and 2,935 people have died.
Opposition in Western New York
"I would hope that if he plans to take our supplies, that when the curve gets to its high point here that this will be reciprocated and our stuff is returned," said Jen Snyder, a nurse at Erie County Medical Center, during a rally held by nurses Friday morning to raise attention to the lack of personal protective equipment for hospital staff.
In announcing his executive order, Cuomo promised that any equipment taken from one area would either be brought back when those areas needed it, or replaced entirely with the purchase of new equipment.
However, some are skeptical that he could replace equipment, particularly ventilators, given their scarcity on the market due to high demand.
Cuomo's edict also drew a sharp rebuke from the leader of one of the Buffalo area's largest health care providers, Kaleida Health, which says it has 76 patients currently on ventilators.
“Hoping for no surge here or a promise of reimbursement for ventilators in the future, at time of great uncertainty, would be irresponsible," said Jody L. Lomeo, Kaleida's President and CEO. "I cannot jeopardize our workforce and the very patients that we are responsible to care for."
Lomeo, who is also Chair-elect of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said that while he is acutely aware of the plight his colleagues from New York City are currently in, "our community does not need the real or perceived implications that our supplies and equipment are going to be diverted downstate."
Lomeo's statement continued; "As I have said and will continue to say, we are always willing to help our neighbors, but not at the expense of the community that we are accountable for. So today I stand shoulder to shoulder with our physicians, nurses and staff to oppose this executive order that is designed to pit upstate versus downstate. In a time of crisis, we do not have the luxury of spending time on public fights and mandates like this."
Response from ECMC
While joining the nurses from his hospital during their rally on Friday, ECMC President and CEO Thomas Quatroche, Jr. told WGRZ-TV that he looked forward to further discussions with the state.
"I’m sure that they want to make responsible decisions in making sure we meet the need downstate but we need to then meet the need here in Western New York," Quatroche said. "It's the state government and it has the authority to do those things so we’re not going to violate the law, and if it’s required then we’ll do what we need to do to help them acquire what is needed."
A spokesperson for Catholic Health told WGRZ that its hospital population is growing quickly and that it is constantly updating its models and projecting the needs of the region. However, while understanding the need is great in other parts of the state, it currently project its ventilators will be fully in use by mid-April.
Poloncarz: our ventilators are not going anywhere
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Friday afternoon that he had spoken to the governor's staff, as well as the top three hospital systems in Western New York.
According to Poloncarz, nearly every available ventilator in area hospital is currently and therefore did not believe any ventilators will be taken from Western New York patients to head downstate.
"Our ventilators are not going anywhere. It's as simple as that," the County Executive said.
More equipment needed
Gov Cuomo also called on companies to make more PPE, including masks, gowns and face shields. Cuomo said that in the state, there's not enough ventilators in the state. The CEO of Catholic Health confirmed to 2 On You Side Thursday that WNY won't have enough.
Cuomo said that the state is "broke," making New York extremely dependent on federal aid so that the pandemic won't cause the state to divest from other areas in the budget.
The state is asking for companies or individuals who can assist, contact: 212-803-3100 or email Covid19supplies@esd.ny.gov. The state says they will pay for products, as well as assist manufacturing businesses to transition their facility to build PPE and ventilators.