A Greenport hospital faces down the COVID-19 monster

Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport was the first to receive a COVID-19 patient on the East End and has been on the front lines for two weeks. This 70-bed facility that sits alongside Stirling Harbor is pretty much where, at least in our area, the COVID-19 pandemic first reared its ugly head.

The hospital has had to make fundamental changes to meet the challenge, as the number of confirmed cases grew, the demand for testing grew, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked each hospital in the state to dramatically increase the number of overall beds and ICU beds to meet an expected surge in cases. As a result, Stony Brook Eastern Long Hospital now has a total of 100 beds available.

The Times Review Media Group interviewed Paul Connor, the facility’s chief administrator officer. The interview has been edited for space and clarity. One main takeaway from the interview: a small amount of optimism has appeared on the scene, after two tumultuous weeks. But will it last?

“This is interesting, because we got hit early,” Mr. Connor said. “We have been fairly stable for the past four or five days. It seems some stability has happened. I hope I can say that at this time next week.”

TR: What kind of space have you created to meet Gov. Cuomo’s orders to dramatically increase beds for an expected COVID-19 surge in patients?

PC: We’ve created a dedicated unit for virus patients and what is called ‘people under investigation.’ We emptied our detox unit and are now counting those beds as available and we’ve made other arrangement as well. Any patient who is positive or a PUI and needs a ventilator we transfer to Stony Brook or to Southampton Hospital. In other words, the ventilator patients go to either of those places. That’s a better way to manage that and it’s easier on staff too.

TR: How is testing working at your facility? This has been among the most criticized areas in terms of the response to the epidemic.

PC: Other than Northwell in this area, we are not doing the actual testing. Only the county Health Department has been doing them. But, yes, Northwell has the facilities to do the testing. We have an arrangement with Quest Laboratories to send our tests there for results. We do the samples here — the nose and throat swabs — and then send them out. A courier picks them up.

The turnaround time ranges from three days, to even five and six days. The good news is that a new kit has received approval for rapid testing. Those kits will be directed to hot spots. I don’t think we qualify as that. But with the rapid testing, the results come back in 45 minutes. By mid-April we will be able to do our own testing, and with a very fast turnaround. So that is coming.

Right now, we are light on swabs. We’ve been trying to get a lot more for the past week. We need to find a source for swabs. We probably have a couple hundred now, but they could go very quickly.

TR: How does the testing process work now? There are all kinds of stories of people who want them and can’t get them.

PC: Let’s say someone wants to get tested. That person calls the health department number. The person who answers will ask for symptoms. If you meet the CDC criteria, one option is for them to call here, again, having first gone through the health department, and we can do a drive-by on our property. Someone who knows you are coming in PPE comes out and does the swab, all outside. We’ve been doing that for a couple of weeks.

TR: In terms of all the Personal Protective Equipment, how are your supplies today?

PC: Our stocks have gone up substantially. We are good. We also now have people making face shields. It’s very simple. And you can reuse the face shield if it is properly cleaned. I could not say that last week, when we were on a day, maybe day and a half supply. We have the ear loop surgical masks, and we are grateful for them.

TR: How about your staff? Have you lost key people to the virus?

PC: We have had a number of individuals become symptomatic and a couple of people, including a physician, have tested positive. That includes a supervising nurse. We take each employee’s temperature before they come in the building. We give everyone an ear loop mask.

TR: Are your worried if this goes on for weeks and perhaps months, that your staff could get more positive cases?

PC: If this goes longer than we suspect, people will go down. No question. We will do our best to make it all work. I do want to say that the staff here has always been unique. They have a very high level of caring. This staff consistently steps up. They go above and beyond. I could not ask for a better group of employees.