The Brooklyn hospital designated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to treat only coronavirus patients was woefully unprepared for the avalanche of COVID-19 patients, two insiders said.
The 376-bed SUNY Downstate Medical Center was so short of critical medications that staffers were told to ration them, and so low on protective equipment that employees were asked to scour their basements for supplies, the sources told The Post.
“This was pure negligence,” said one insider who believes conditions were deadly early on. A total of 297 people have died from COVID-19 at Downstate.
Under Cuomo’s March 28 directive, SUNY Downstate was named as one of three New York City hospitals to care only for victims of the deadly virus.
“That will provide more than 600 beds specifically for COVID-19 patients,” Cuomo’s office said in announcing the East Flatbush hospital was selected along with the Westchester Square campus of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and the state South Beach Psychiatric Facility on Staten Island.
Emails obtained by The Post show how ill-prepared SUNY Downstate, which serves many low-income residents, was for the task.
“In order to maintain a steadier inventory of critical supplies, we ask that you please search your basements and garages for equipment, such as goggles, that you would be able to contribute,” the hospital’s Coronavirus Preparedness Task Force wrote in appeal to staffers on April 3 as the crisis neared its peak.
The medical center had a “critically low inventory” of fentanyl and another meds used to sedate people on ventilators, and of norepinephrine, used to revive patients in shock, according to an April 3 “critical drug shortage communication” from the hospital pharmacy.
A CNN piece filmed at the hospital that day showed a jammed emergency room where patients struggled to breathe and four died while the news crew was taping. Dr. Wayne Riley, the hospital president, told CNN that trash bags and ponchos were under consideration as protective garb.
On April 5, the hospital’s coronavirus task force said the PPE situation was so dire that the allocations “will essentially be cut in half” and that workers would only get one gown per shift, an email said. “Do not throw away a gown until you are done for the day,” it warned.
In another inexplicable measure, on April 3 the hospital’s well-regarded chief medical officer, Dr. Michael Lucchesi, who had been there for almost three decades, was stripped of his title. The hospital named a more junior physician, Dr. Mohamed Nakeshbandi, licensed only in 2013, as the interim replacement.
Lucchesi, who is still chairman of emergency medicine, declined to comment. The hospital said it would not comment on a personnel issue.
Deepening the crisis, the hospital tried and failed to participate in a clinical trial of the anti-viral drug remdesivir, which delayed a promising treatment for patients, the insiders said.
A hospital spokeswoman said the facility was “in frequent, daily contact with the governor’s office” and state Health Department about PPE and it eventually got remdesivir.
“As the only state-operated hospital in all of New York City, we were proud to have responded to Gov. Cuomo’s call when we were designated to serve COVID-only patients. Our teams’ incredible work and efforts to care for the community should be lauded,” said spokeswoman Dawn Skeete-Walker.
Rich Azzopardi, senior advisor to Cuomo, said the administration “remained in close contact with hospitals administrators across the state, set up a PPE tracking system with every hospital where we could see their burn rate in real time and – amid a worldwide PPE shortage at the height of this public health crisis – fulfilled every needed request for this vital equipment.”
Azzopardi said the state shipped 5,000 N-95 masks, 7,400 gowns 7,000 coveralls to SUNY Downstate in April.
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