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Why Auburn hospital, for now, won't be able to open for elective surgeries

Why Auburn hospital, for now, won't be able to open for elective surgeries

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday revealed the counties where hospitals will be allowed to resume elective surgeries, but Cayuga isn't on the list. 

Hospitals in 35 New York counties will be permitted to open for elective procedures — a major revenue source for medical facilities. In central New York, hospitals in Onondaga, Oswego and Tompkins counties can restart elective surgeries. 

Cuomo issued an executive order in March to cancel elective surgeries. It was part of a statewide effort to expand hospital capacity for the COVID-19 response. Last week, Cuomo signaled that he would allow elective surgeries to resume. 

During his COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, Cuomo said that hospitals where there isn't "fear of a COVID surge" may restart outpatient treatments. That general description would appear to apply to Cayuga County, which has reported 49 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and minimal hospitalizations. There has been one coronavirus-related death in the county. 

In the last 11 days, five people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Cayuga County. 

Three active COVID-19 cases, one new recovery in Cayuga County

But the guidelines hospitals must meet to begin conducting elective surgeries again isn't limited to concern about a potential spike in COVID-19 cases. Jim Malatras, president of Empire State College and one of Cuomo's advisers, explained that hospitals can reopen for the procedures if they have at least 30% overall bed capacity, 30% intensive care unit capacity and there isn't an increase in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. 

"Some of the individual hospitals don't meet one of those tests and some of the counties haven't met that test, so that's why you see some of the differences in the regions just based on the hospitalizations of those specific regions," Malatras said. 

After Cuomo's briefing, the governor's office told The Citizen that elective surgeries can't resume in Cayuga County because Auburn Community Hospital doesn't have enough bed capacity. The hospital has 14.67% of its total beds available and 21% open in its intensive care unit — both of which are under the 30% threshold set by the state. 

Matthew Chadderdon, vice president of marketing and public affairs for Auburn Community Hospital, said the hospital is working with the state Department of Health to "understand the criteria for reopening for elective surgeries and believe any issues with capacity and available beds in our ICU and other departments will be clarified soon." 

A few weeks ago, Chadderdon continued, the hospital's management assembled a team to develop plans for resuming elective surgeries and other services. That team has been meeting regularly, he said, to formulate a strategy that includes strict safety guidelines for patients. 

"The plan is a roadmap to guide readiness, prioritization and scheduling," Chadderdon said. "The roadmap will include timing, testing, adequate equipment, prioritization and scheduling, as well as COVID-related safety and risk mitigation, patient communications, environmental cleaning and regulatory issues." 

Auburn Community Hospital hasn't cared for many COVID-19 patients. Chadderdon said there have been less than 10 COVID-19 patients at the hospital over a 55-day period. 

By comparison, Onondaga County reported on Wednesday that it has 39 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals. Despite having more than three dozen patients with the coronavirus, it didn't affect the hospitals' ability to reopen for elective procedures. 

The resumption of elective treatments could provide a much-needed revenue boost to hospitals. Many hospitals, including Auburn, sustained severe financial losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. Chadderdon told The Citizen last week that the number of surgeries at the hospital decreased by approximately 85% since Cuomo's order took effect in March. 

"We look forward to announcing a date very soon on when surgeries will reopen at Auburn Community Hospital," Chadderdon said. 

Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at

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