COVID-19 hitting Kaleida staff hard

Updated: 5:50 p.m.

The workforce at Kaleida hospitals is being hard hit by the coronavirus.

A document obtained by Investigative Post indicates that as of Friday, 34 caregivers had tested positive for COVID-19 and 81 awaited test results. Another 166 employees had tested negative. 

Kaleida spokesman Michael Hughes, who failed to respond to emails and phone calls from Investigative Post reporters Friday and earlier Monday, confirmed the 34 figure in an email sent today at 4:55 p.m., after this story posted.

His email read: “Over 10,000 employees.  34 positive. .03% …… “Hitting Kaleida staff hard” ???!!!!”

Other sources say the situation is less dire at the region’s other two major health care providers. Erie County Medical Center and the Catholic Health System have only a handful of infected employees between them, sources told Investigative Post. 

That count might be suppressed, however. Because tests are in short supply, Catholic Health is not testing its employees to nearly the same extent as Kaleida. An undetermined number of employees at both health care systems have self-isolated with symptoms.

Kaleida issued an order Thursday to employees to wear surgical masks while within six feet of coworkers and patients. The masks are being handed out at the door to staff as they enter the hospital and have their temperatures taken.

In an email Thursday to all Kaleida employees, CEO Jody Lomeo wrote the organization was caring for the bulk of local COVID-19 patients but was well-stocked with personal protective equipment. 

Lomeo said Kaleida hospitals – which include Children’s, Buffalo General and Millard Fillmore Suburban – had 30,000 N95 masks available and were “working to triple or quadruple those numbers” in the next few weeks. As well, Lomeo said the hospital had a stock of 60,000 surgical masks and expected to make “significant mass acquisition in the next week.”

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At least one Kaleida nurse has taken issue with Kaleida’s level of preparedness. Sarah Buckley, who serves as the political director for the union representing Kaleida workers, CWA Local 1168, said there are shortages of protective equipment ranging from masks to gloves. She appeared Saturday on MSNBC to make her case. 

In a video posted to social media, Buckley said the situation puts caregivers at increased risk of infection, endangering their lives and the lives of their families. 

“It’s not a position any of us should be put in,” she said.

Both a spokesperson and a surgeon at Catholic Health said its hospitals are well stocked with protective equipment, though the doctor said two stores of kits were broken into and raided by unknown parties. 

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After an order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, all three regional health care systems are bracing for an expected surge of coronavirus patients. 

The surgeon at Catholic Health likened the circumstance to “one of those war movies, you know, where everyone’s lined up in the trenches, waiting for the whistle that tells them it’s time to go over the top.”

Schedules have been cleared and they await the projected onslaught, the surgeon said. 

Catholic Health has set up medical triage tents outside emergency rooms at Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo, Kenmore Mercy, Sisters Hospital on Main Street, Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston, and the Mercy Ambulatory Care Center in Orchard Park. 

In addition, personnel have been transferred to Sisters of Charity Hospital St. Joseph Campus on Harlem Road, the system’s dedicated COVID-19 treatment center. The first patients were admitted there Thursday.

At ECMC, the hospital has devoted one floor to provide ICU-caliber services. It’s also taken  measures similar to Catholic Health in discharging patients when practical and reducing outpatient services.

In the Kaleida system, a section of the third floor of Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital has been designated as the area where coronavirus patients will be treated. 

At Buffalo General, the entire 15th floor holds COVID-19 patients, as well as half the 16th and a part of the medical intensive care unit, where serious coronavirus sufferers have been put on ventilators. The remaining 16th floor space and the recovery room have been set aside for the potential surge. 

Cuomo’s aim is to increase hospital capacities 100 percent. Lomeo said in his email to employees that a variety of measures are being considered toward that end, including:

  • Reopening beds, or the entire tower, at DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda.
  • Doubling up private rooms and conversion of old hospital rooms/space.
  • Utilizing ambulatory surgery space and ambulatory surgery centers.

“We need your understanding that this is not a game of ‘perfect,’” Lomeo said in his email to staff.

“We are making decisions in real time, utilizing the most current information as we receive it. This crisis changes moment by moment, hour by hour. This is the situation we find ourselves in.”

Lomeo is working with a well-compensated senior staff, according to Kaleida’s most-recent 990 filing with the Internal Revenue Service posted on Guidestar. Lomeo, according to the filing for 2017, was paid $2.4 million from Kaleida and related organizations.

Hughes, his chief of staff and Kaleida spokesman, was paid $567,484.

Thirteen other employees were reported as earning more than $500,000 each; three of them were paid over $1 million.

Jim Heaney contributed to this report.