Temporary tents were placed outside the emergency departments at Bradford Regional Medical Center and Olean General Hospital on Tuesday. The tents will be used to assist in “quick triage” for patients to the emergency departments.

Upper Allegheny Health System hospitals have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, but are asking staff to conserve it just the same.

First, hospital officials assured the public that there are enough ventilators available.

“We have an adequate supply of ventilators for both hospitals for our current volumes,” said Jeff Zewe, RN, president, chief executive officer, UAHS, before addressing personal protective equipment like masks and face shields.

“Like all hospitals nationwide, we are challenged relative to acquisition of PPE and are competing with hospitals worldwide,” Zewe explained. “That said, we have an adequate supply of PPE for our current volume. We don’t, however, have a stockpile.

“We are asking staff to conserve PPE. If we burn through supplies, even before we see a surge, we risk being in real trouble should we start seeing a stream of new COVID-19 patients,” he continued. “We believe that in the coming days and weeks, inventories of PPE will become more available given the governor’s plan to centrally control and distribute PPE. We are awaiting a new supply of PPE including 1,000 locally made face shields.”

Another step hospital officials have taken is to add triage tents outside both Olean (N.Y.) General Hospital and Bradford Regional Medical Center. Once operational next week, the tents will be used to quick triage patients in an effort to unburden the hospitals’ emergency departments. The tents will not be used as COVID testing sites.

“In anticipation of high patient surge, we are proactively erecting the tents outside the emergency departments to improve efficiency and better care for our patients,” Zewe said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there had been six positive cases of COVID-19 in Cattaraugus County, N.Y., and one in McKean County.

“The lack of testing kits throughout the U.S. continues to be an issue and therefore, the lack of confirmed cases probably isn’t a true measure of COVID-19 activity in our communities,” said William Mills, MD, vice president, quality and medical affairs, UAHS. “Therefore, it is important for our patients and residents to practice social distancing, staying home unless necessary, practicing good hand hygiene, etc., to prevent the spread of this virus.”

Zewe said both Olean and Bradford hospitals are preparing in case there is a surge in local patients with COVID-19.

“Reacting to New York state Gov. Cuomo’s call to expand hospital bed capacity statewide, our facilities staff has done an amazing job,” he said. “New York state hospitals were asked to increase bed capacity in preparation for a patient surge by 50 percent. While no formal request was submitted by Pennsylvania, we decided to be proactive and plan for additional surge at BRMC as well.”

He reiterated that it is unlikely that patients from outside the area would be hospitalized locally.

“Again, we are aware of the governor’s statements about cooperation between providers across the state. Yes, he suggested patients and/or staff could potentially move to and from hospitals across the state as the surge moves,” Zewe said. “However, at this point, we have received no directives nor have we received any information suggesting that patients will be coming to Olean from downstate.

“At this point, we continue to plan for a surge to address local needs,” according to Zewe.

Telemedicine is being offered at UAHS’s primary care practices for patients who prefer to stay home during the pandemic.

Hospital officials noted their appreciation at the help being offered by the communities on both sides of the state border.

“Our community has shown our hospitals a lot of love and kindness through this pandemic,” officials said. “Groups are making homemade face masks and donating PPE, people have had food delivered from area restaurants to our front line staff and local companies are producing face shields on 3-D printers.”

Officials released a reminder to the communities as well.

“The New York and Pennsylvania governors have issued business and school closings in an effort to keep people at home. It really is an important step to help slow the spread of the illness. Medical staff are working tirelessly to prepare and care for patients. Taking preventative measures are vital to help healthcare facilities manage patient care during this pandemic. We know these restrictions can be emotionally and financially frustrating but it’s important to do your part to keep you, your family, your friends, and your neighbors safe and healthy.”