The USNS Comfort and the Javits Center field hospital remain practically empty of COVID-19 patients as both Department of Defense-run facilities strictly manage intake while getting up to speed — to the frustration of medical staffers at swamped city emergency rooms.
The Navy-manned, 500-bed Comfort, which docked last week on the city’s West Side — and was this week reconfigured to take high-severity coronavirus cases — has just over 60 patients, Navy officials said Thursday.
And the Army-manned, 1,000-bed Javits Center field hospital — now serving lower-severity COVID-19 cases — had only 225 patients, officials said Thursday.
Meanwhile, cramped hospitals are being told that nearly all of their patients don’t fit the “criteria” for admission at either facility, frustrated staffers and public officials complain.
“It’s bulls–t,” one staffer at the overcrowded Metropolitan Hospital Center in East Harlem told The Post of a 25-point checklist for transferring patients to Javits.
The worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the hospital recently asked Javits to take 95 of their COVID-19 patients, but only one made the cut.
And yet hospital admissions continue to rise.
“Big problem,” agreed a staffer at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx, when asked about the tight criteria at Javits and the Comfort.
Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Damion Booth sanitizes a surface in the pharmacy aboard the USNS Comfort.Sara Eshleman/US Navy via Getty Images
Jacobi has some 100 admitted patients it cannot find room for, the staffer said Thursday.
“We’re still backed up 50 deep in both adult and pediatric ERs,” said the staffer, taking a few seconds out of a busy shift to text The Post. “There’s no beds.”
A state health official who asked not to be identified countered that the head of the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation — which includes Jacobi and Metropolitan — was on Thursday’s daily conference call with hospital executives.
“When state health officials asked if there were any patient capacity issues, we were told there were no issues,” the official said.
The relative emptiness of the two federally run hospitals did not sit well with City Council Health Committee Chairman Mark Levine, who just recovered from COVID-19.
“These are well-resourced facilities that are 90 percent empty. And we have hospitals that are overflowing,” the Manhattan Democrat said.
“They’re going to have to loosen the criteria on the kind of coronavirus patients they can accept and there are a whole bunch of logical barriers that have to be loosened,” Levine said.
He complained that the Army and Navy are insisting on hand-picking and transporting a small number hospital patients to Javits and the Comfort.
“Hospitals should be be able to drop off patients there instead of having staff from Javits or Comfort come to pick them up,” he said.
Patients were being barred from transfer to either facility for sometimes trivial reasons, he complained.
“They were asking the hospitals to supply patients with five days of medication,” or else they couldn’t be transferred. “That’s unnecessary,” he said. “Both of these facilities have pharmacies.”
Defense officials told The Post on Thursday that the number of patients at both facilities will rise steadily in the coming days as the two temporary hospitals ramp up to speed.
They blamed the bottleneck partly on state health officials initially saddling the feds with a 15-page list of instructions detailing which patients can be admitted to Javits, said Major General William Hall, the commander of Joint Task Force Civil Support.
The instructions include requiring that all patients being transferred to Javits from other hospitals arrive with five days of medication, because the center — originally dedicated to non-COVID patients only — was only now starting to accept coronavirus patients, and its pharmacy had not yet caught up to speed, Hall said.
“The [state’s] original inclusion-exclusion criteria was 15 pages long,” said Hall. “It’s pretty amazing that we went down to what I think is seven now, maybe less than that,” he said.
“As Health and Human Services is working to build up that pharmacy … we’ve also deployed an Army pharmacy into the Javits to help with that and our hope is that in the coming days we’ll see that exclusion criteria gets smaller and smaller so that we can accept those patients,” Hall said.
Military medical personnel have been visiting local hospitals “to go through that document and explain how to identify and transfer patients,” Hall said.
“I think at the end of the day, no one wants to accept a patient that then we can’t care for and then we have to transfer back to a hospital and burden them again.”
One federal source who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the Comfort, for instance, is taking only the sickest patients, and can’t treat the mentally ill, children or pregnant women because the ship does not yet have the specialized staff.
Ten of the new Comfort patients were transferred there from Jamaica Hospital and Flushing Medical Center on after the facilities reported that their oxygen distribution systems “were malfunctioning due to high demand,” the state Health Department said.
But the ship’s patient load remains so “modest,” that on Thursday night, Vice President Pence noted that 75 military personnel from the ship had been deployed to help relieve some city hospital workers.
The state, meanwhile, counters that it was the Department of Defense that initially set unrealistic, too-tight criteria for admission into Javits.
“They wanted no patients that needed to see a nurse more than once every eight hours,” said Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell Health, which is overseeing Javits on behalf of the state.
“They wanted all patients to be ambulatory. We had no patients like that,” he said of the feds’ too-tight initial standards.
“To say it was our list is hogwash.”
Another 75 patients are slated to be moved to Javits from crowded city hospitals on Friday.
One state official, speaking on condition of anonymity, noted that it can be logistically difficult — and sometimes dangerous — to move patients who are on breathing machines.
The Javits field hospital and the Comfort also each have limitations, the state official said — the Javits, for example, has limited intensive care facilities and no operating rooms, so cannot accept COVID-19 patients who have underlying conditions that could require surgery.
“Patient criteria for both Javits and the Comfort is set by the state and the federal government,” a City Hall spokesperson said. “Within our own hospital system, we can transfer patients to relieve more strained hospitals as needed.”
Additional reporting by Carl Campanile and Bernadette Hogan
An ambulance that was turned away from entering the USNS Comfort on April 4.Christopher Sadowski