SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) – As the world focuses on the newly identified Omicron COVID-19 variant, Governor Kathy Hochul is also focusing on increasing hospital bed capacity.

On Friday, Governor Hochul signed an Executive Order giving the New York State Department of Health the authority to postpone non-essential, non-urgent elective surgeries at hospitals with limited capacity.

The Executive Order goes into effect Friday, December 3. Governor Hochul says the state will reassess hospitals impacted on January 15 based on the latest COVID-19 data.

If a hospital is ordered by the NYSDOH to temporarily stop elective procedures but gets capacity and resources in place before January 15, they’ll be able to resume those surgeries before that date.

“This allows us to have the flexibility, what we call the ‘surge and flex’ strategy,” Hochul explained.

However, some Central New York hospitals were already forced to pause procedures.

When the deadline for all New York State healthcare workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine came on September 27, Upstate University Hospital was forced to temporarily pause elective procedures.

In normal times, Upstate would have 35 operating rooms but since then there have only been 13 open. Only a number of time-sensitive surgeries are being scheduled.

A spokesperson for Upstate says the hospital regularly monitors COVID-19 cases as well as flu, parainfluenza, RSV and other pathogens to ensure it has the capacity and staff available for such a surge should it be necessary.

“We know exactly the hospitals we’re talking about, probably 32 to 36 hospitals that fall into that category of having 10% or less bed capacity. We can micro-target those as well.”

Governor kathy hochul, (D) new york

Upstate University Hospital isn’t the only hospital already forced to have put elective surgeries on pause.

On October 4, Oswego Health made the decision to temporarily stop elective procedures in order to care for COVID-19 patients and complete time-sensitive procedures.

Dr. Frank Pearson, director of the Syracuse VA Medical Center, said they’ve also reduced the number of elective surgeries.

To the extent possible, we are supportive of the NYS Governor’s declared state of emergency and the NYSDOH’S authority to limit certain care. That said, even though a Federal facility, the VA is at  least indirectly impacted by these measures. Specifically, a reduction in the number of beds in Syracuse as a whole affects every hospital in Syracuse. A reduction in the number of available beds increases the complexity required to transfer patients when a higher level of care is necessary.

The Syracuse VA Medical Center has reduced the number of elective procedures. Ultimately though, the VA has never stopped serving Veterans during the pandemic. Our medical center will continue to safely provide care and services through a blend of appropriate in-person care, telehealth services and when necessary, connecting Veterans with community care.

Statement from Dr. Frank Pearson, Director, Syracuse VA Medical Center

At. St. Joseph’s Health, Dr. Philip Falcone, said the Governor’s Executive Order will not impact surgeries at this time.

“As we have throughout this pandemic, we continue to frequently assess our patients’ needs,” Dr. Falcone said. “We are constantly reviewing our scheduled elective procedures and adjust our capacity based on staffing availability. Our inpatient numbers have remained fairly consistent, so these practices will continue. As always, we are putting our patients first and we’re focused on their safety and well-being. We are also caring for our colleagues’ needs and well-being through several efforts including our Colleague Care team.”

Both Auburn Community Hospital and Guthrie Cortland Medical Center tell NewsChannel 9 they’ve been able to continue scheduling elective procedures throughout the pandemic, currently have enough hospital capacity and are maintaining staffing levels.

“We did not limit any surgeries or services prior to this,” explained Matthew Chadderdon, spokesperson for Auburn Community Hospital. “We manage our capacity and staffing regularly – if not hourly – and are in constant contact with the Cayuga County Health Department and other hospitals in the area to manage any spikes in COVID and other issues. We hope our region sees more vaccinations and less Covid-19 and we will continue to advocate this.”

Even with the recent COVID vaccination mandate, at Guthrie Cortland Medical Center, we have been able to maintain our surgical schedule without interruption.  Over the past few weeks, based on demand, we have brought in additional agency staff to assist in maintaining appropriate staffing levels.  At this time, we do not anticipate a major impact on our services.

Jennifer Yartym, SVP, Guthrie Cortland Medical Center