A senior Stony Brook Southampton Hospital official said this week that the post-holiday surge of Covid-19 patients is over, and now it's a matter of public vigilance until vaccinations yield widespread immunity to the virus.
"We're still very much in this," Robert Chaloner, the chief administrative officer, said by phone this week. "We still have people dying of this disease. We have people in intensive care units on ventilators as we speak. We cannot let down our guard. We're seeing progress and a lot of hope with the vaccine, but I hope people need to realize they still need to do the right thing."
As of Tuesday afternoon, Stony Brook Southampton had 14 Covid patients, down from a peak of 31 in January. That in itself was still an improvement from May of 2020, when the virus accounted for approximately 50 patients.
Right now, there are 116 staffed beds at the hospital. The patient mortality rate there is at 10 percent, which a hospital spokeswoman called "better than published results from city institutions."
There is still a no-visitor policy in place, with several exceptions in cases such as childbirth, pediatric care, and end-of-life situations. The hospital has resumed elective in-patient surgeries after pausing them in January. "We were trying to hold beds because we didn't know how far up the peak was going to go," Mr. Chaloner said.
Asked whether there was anything he thought Stony Brook Southampton should have done differently over the past year, Mr. Chaloner said the hospital might have "probably kept a better eye on inventory levels" of personal protective equipment -- "not assuming they'll just be available whenever we need them." They never entirely ran out, he said, "but it got close."
Other than that, he said, "We mobilized very, very quickly and we were able to accommodate the initial surge. We protected our people, we protected our patients. Our clinical results are very, very strong."
The hospital continues to hire people, Mr. Chaloner said. There are quite a few job openings available, for nurses, patient-flow managers, community outreach, and digital marketing professionals, and 10 available positions for emergency support staff, as of a week ago. "We have opened up a lot of positions because we're doing a lot of extra things right now, like running testing centers and vaccination centers at this point, so we've had to bring on additional staff."
Several months ago, nurses and other support staff at Stony Brook's two East End hospitals picketed outside the facilities to lobby for crisis pay. The issue has not gone away, Mr. Chaloner said, but it's something that the main Stony Brook Medicine leadership is working on. First, he said, "Everybody is really focused on getting to the end of this crisis, getting vaccines in people's arms."
Asked if he thought Covid-19 would permanently change the health care field, Mr. Chaloner said, "I wonder about that a lot."
"We're using telemedicine more than we ever did before. I think people were reluctant, but we've proven it works. I have a feeling that will be a change that we continue. Protocols that are in place about masking, isolation -- we've proven that those are very effective . . . it's not a bad change to continue." He also thinks there will be standards implemented for keeping a supply of P.P.E. on hand.
"It'll be interesting to see what other things stick," Mr. Chaloner said.
Apart from hospital issues, he hopes one more Covid-19 change will remain. "I like all the outdoor dining that we now have," he said.