Last Wednesday, the city announced that the employee testing program will be rolled out in phases over four weeks to reduce exposure to the coronavirus.
Starting on April 1, testing begins for employees who are symptomatic and are home in isolation. On April 8, the program will be available for employees who have no symptoms, but provide direct care to COVID-19 patients.
Testing will open to employees who have no symptoms, but have family members at home who tested positive to the virus on April 15. Finally, starting April 22, testing opens for all employees.
“We are committed to the health and wellness of our heroic workforce during this unprecedented crisis, and we will leave no stone unturned to protect their safety and the safety of our patients,” said Dr. Machelle Allen, NYC H+H’s chief medical officer. “And we will continue to secure the additional staff support, hospital beds, PPE and any other equipment our essential workers need.”
The COVID-19 tests will be offered by appointment only at one of the health system’s 11 hospitals or seven community-based Gotham Health centers. The tests will be given 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The test results will be available within one to two days.
NYC H+H has created a hotline for employees and will dedicate two clinicians, including a physician and a nurse, to each facility to perform the tests. Employees who test positive for COVID-19 will be advised to inform their personal doctors, supervisor and employee health office.
They will also be asked to stay home and follow the state Health Department’s guidelines on when to report back to work.
To protect confidentiality, test results will only be shared with the employee. The health system will also not reporte test results by groups or facilities, officials said.
Dr. Frank Proscia, president of the Doctors Council, said in a statement that this was one of the issues the group heard most from frontline workers.
“This shows the importance of listening to the input of doctors,” he said. “While the advocacy and urgent need for more N95 masks, all PPE and ventilators continues, the testing of health care workers is a positive and needed development.”
On Thursday, NYC H+H also announced it will aim to triple its base ICU capacity at its 11 hospitals to accommodate a surge in patients. The health system will have an “immediate focus” on Elmhurst, Lincoln and Bellevue hospitals, with the goal of bringing in 3,000 additional ICU beds by May 1.
For the past few weeks, the city has transferred 193 non-ICU and 43 ICU COVID-19 patients from Elmhurst, Queens, Lincoln, Woodhull and Kings County hospitals to other public hospitals with more capacity.
During the initial surge in capacity, Elmhurst Hospital added 82 ICU beds, bringing their total available beds to 111. Woodhull Hospital will add 91 medical and surgical beds and 23 ICU beds, while Queens Hospital will add 373 medical beds and 44 ICU beds.
The hospital system also added 165 doctors, nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants. A thousand more registered nurses were deployed, and another 1,000 will be deployed in the next week.
Two weeks ago, the system raised more than $1.6 million from private donors to provide meals, groceries, taxi rides and hotel rooms for frontline workers.
“The governor has called for hospitals to prepare for the surge and New York City’s public hospitals have been more than rising to the challenge of caring for the large number of COVID-19 patients needing intensive care,” said Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health+Hospitals. “We’re proud to be able to provide these incredibly important services at this critical moment in our city’s life.”