Cayuga Health Confronting COVID-19 ‘Head-On’ to Protect Local Communities & Beyond
By Tom LiVigne, Larry Baum and Paula E. F. Younger
With compassion, courage and competence, the medical professionals and staff of Cayuga Health are confronting the threat Coronavirus poses to our local communities with a direct, head-on response. And, in true community partnership, as the threat and onset of virus started to rise, Cayuga Health, public officials, community partners and volunteers continued to collaborate to ‘step it up’ to fight this pandemic.
Cayuga Health was well prepared and began organizing mid-March for their effort to respond to the coronavirus. Within days of the first local infection, Cayuga Health set immediate visitor restrictions at their hospitals and medical offices, including screening of all staff members and imparted a full mask regiment throughout the health system. In partnership with the Tompkins County Health Department, they began a free community sampling site to identify those infected with COVID-19.
As the need increased, Cayuga Health expanded their sampling services to create a drive-through Sampling Center, located at the Shops at Ithaca Mall, which has tested well over 4,000 residents so far. The Sampling Center is staffed by Cayuga Health System, Cayuga Medical Center and Cayuga Health Partners nurses and providers.
The Sampling Center has supported several large local and regional businesses with safe, rapid test results after high impact exposures, and also provides tests daily for essential healthcare workers from Cortland, Tompkins, Schuyler and surrounding counties.
Earlier this month Cayuga Medical Center deployed their first mobile testing team and responded within 45 minutes to a request for COVID-19 testing of interested residents and staff at Bridges Cornell Heights, an assisted living residence for seniors. In addition, the mobile team tested residents and staff of Schuyler Hospital’s Seneca View Skilled Nursing Facility and will continue to support community members and organizations that are not able to go to the Sampling Center but are deemed vulnerable.
Cayuga Medical Center currently sends the samples out for testing, and then provides the results to the patient and the infection data to the health department. The health department uses the results to develop protocols to help prevent the spread of the disease and to inform the community of local infection rates.
In addition to supporting our local communities, Cayuga Health took the COVID-19 fight out of our area and sent two busses with Cayuga Health doctors, nurses and other professional staff on a month-long medical mission to care for COVID-19 patients at NYC. We could not be more proud.
To address the need for safe regular healthcare, Cayuga Health rapidly expanded Telemedicine services and capabilities to allow patients to stay at home and have online appointments with their health care providers. Within the Cayuga Health System’s hospitals and its partners, Telehealth is now offered by over 200 providers at Cayuga Medical Center, Schuyler Hospital, Cayuga Health Partners, Cayuga Medical Associates and the Cayuga Wellness Center.
We could not do this without the help of many community volunteers, businesses and organizations. We would like to say a special ‘thank you’ to the following for going above and beyond to support our efforts…
Cornell University and Ithaca College, who provided traffic control for the virus testing site. In addition, both campuses donated testing materials and personal protective equipment. Cayuga Radio group provided a frequency for use at the Sampling Center to allow for better traffic control. Cornell sent ventilators to CMC and to New York City hospitals and provided transportation; Ithaca College used its 3-D printers to make face shields to help meet local needs and beyond.
Incodema, an Ithaca based company, donated its own uniquely designed face shields that can be sanitized and reused multiple times. BorgWarner also lent a hand by donating hand sanitizing wipes, Tyvek suits and over 200 N95 masks.
Following the lead of a Cayuga Medical Center team, Community residents are stitching together 2,000 surgical masks a day at Cornell’s Bartels Hall that are distributed across the Cayuga Health system. In addition, volunteers sewing in Montour Falls, and at their homes provide additional masks for Schuyler Hospital.
Dozens of volunteers have donated their time and materials through the online Community Resource and Donation Center developed by the Cayuga Medical Center Foundation. Gowns, bleach wipes, hand sanitizer, culture swabs, food for employee and volunteer crews have been among the much-appreciated donations. A web page for details about volunteering was created to help make the process easier: cayugahealthsystem.org/how-to-help
The Cayuga Health Board of Directors would like to say a heartfelt thank you to all. We are grateful for the help we are receiving from so many organizations and volunteers during this emergency, and we are thankful and proud of the dedication of our health care providers, nurses, staff and their leadership for the risks they take every day to protect the health of this region. Together we will overcome.
The writers serve on the Cayuga Health System board of directors. Tom LiVigne is chair, Larry Baum is vice chair and Paula Younger is a board member.