Coronavirus News: Brooklyn hospital transitioning to COVID-19-only patients

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Tuesday, April 7, 2020
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Kemberly Richardson with an inside look at a Brooklyn hospital experimenting with new treatments as it's overrun by COVID-19 patients.

EAST FLATBUSH, Brooklyn (WABC) -- The contrast is jarring, almost cruel. Outside SUNY Downstate Medical Center in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, there are signs of spring. But inside, it is death and darkness as doctors and nurses scramble to keep up with the seemingly endless flow of COVID-19 patients.

"Code 99 (request for urgent medical attention) is typically a rare event," Dr. Robert Gore "We're having 10 code 99s every 12 hours at least."

In the past, a bad shift meant putting just two people a breathing machine.

"With COVID, the pneumonia is not just one lung but both lungs, leaving the patient with no good lungs," Dr. Lorenzo Paladino said.

What's happening at the hospital reflects the reach of the pandemic, the the ugly side of the virus. During a three-hour period on Friday, six people suffered heart or respiratory failure and four died.

"I think it's emotionally hard to prepare for this level of suffering and morbidity and morality in such a short period of time," Dr. Cynthia Benson said. "I don't think any of us are well for it."

In the last two weeks, patient occupancy has gone up 50%, and the team is now treating people in what was pediatrics and been forced to set up a fourth intensive care unit.

With the writing on the wall, SUNY Downstate is transitioning and will be one of only three hospitals in the state that will only treat patients suffering from COVID-19.

One member of the team has done groundbreaking work focused on putting more than one patient on a single ventilator, but it's research he hopes he'll never have to use.

"We try all sorts of maneuvers to keep them breathing and keep them from suffocating or having a cardiac arrest," Dr. Paladino said.

And just as they stabilize one person, there's the haunting announcement for another Code 99.

"I fear we will not have enough of anything to provide for our patients," administrator Cheryl Rolston said. "That's by biggest fear."

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