One remarkable success story in our response to the pandemic has been how swiftly and effectively eastern Long Island medical systems scaled up to meet the challenge.
At the outset of the Covid-19 crisis in early March, Suffolk was far from alone in falling short of the anticipated number of hospital beds needed, especially in intensive-care units. Nationwide, it quickly became apparent that the number of patients would rapidly overwhelm medical facilities. Fears were widespread that there would not be enough ventilators — or doctors, nurses, and support staff — where the virus was spreading fastest. Suffolk County was one of those places.
As the caseload surged here in early April, the Department of Health Services reported a total of 300 I.C.U. beds available, with 272 of them occupied by Covid-19 patients. But as the number of cases rose, so too did the available beds: Hospitals added capacity overnight, moving life-supporting equipment around and bolstering staffs with an influx of nurses and doctors who flocked here to lend a hand. Within a week, there were more than 700 I.C.U. beds in the county, with more than 500 occupied by patients with the coronavirus. At Suffolk’s peak, there were about 800 I.CU. beds in the system — a heroic, if underappreciated, logistical accomplishment.
Stony Brook Southampton Hospital rose to the challenge. It tripled its intensive-care capacity in April and had room to add more as the need climbed. There were “a few close calls,” as the hospital’s chief officer put it, with the supply flow of masks, gowns, and other personal protective equipment, but Southampton adjusted swiftly and made it through the storm.
The ability of Suffolk hospitals to adapt is impressive and should provide a sense of comfort. This is not to diminish the seriousness of the disease and its toll in terms of human lives taken. The medical profession has gone above and beyond in answering its greatest challenge ever — but it is up to the rest of us to prevent a deadly resurgence as restrictions are eased and sunny days return to a semblance of normalcy. We must not let our guard down. Yes, there were empty beds this spring at Southampton, but that is because its managers doubled and tripled the hospital’s capacity. Let us all put together to make sure that many beds aren’t needed again, come winter.