Wendel, Schuyler Voice COVID Frustration

Christine Schuyler

County Executive PJ Wendel and the county’s public health director expressed frustration this week regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Christine Schuyler said area residents may not be aware of the ongoing hardship and difficulty in the community due to the pandemic — but it is here.

“On the side of our health care system, I feel like unless you’re working inside a hospital or nursing home or working in a public health department, the pandemic seems to be not a big deal,” Schuyler said. “But if you need emergency care right now, you’re going to realize what a big deal this pandemic still is for a variety of reasons. Hospitals and nursing homes were also considerably short-staffed, we’ve already had a low blood supply in our communities, and we’ve already had a lot of issues with our health care system as it was.”

She added: “You’ve now got health care providers who are burned out, definitely public health professionals who are burnt out. You’ve got a lot of people who let their chronic conditions go over the course of the pandemic where they’re now in a crisis state. So, we have this perfect storm going on that right now in our own little county; we are seeing the impacts of that on our emergency services systems and our hospital systems. This is something we can’t say this is about ‘me, me, me’ anymore. This really is about all of us.”

She said she hopes that people become more aware of these issues.

“There’s not necessarily an emergency room bed out there for you,” Schuyler said. “Or is there an inpatient bed in that hospital or a bed at that tertiary care facility that you really need to be transferred to — or your child or your parent needs to be transferred to.”

At this point, she said the community needs to adopt a mindset of taking care of not just “ourselves but to take care of our community.” It has become abundantly clear the pandemic is far from over, she said.

Wendel said the situation regarding the medical care system in the county is extraordinarily serious.

“That’s the reality,” he said. “I faced it. Christine couldn’t have said it any better (in the paper) — it’s scary to be sick right now. Have a heart attack — yeah, that’s scary — because you need immediate care. Right now, it will happen, but your critical level is going to change. Those are the worst parts. What we’re seeing is Olean General being on a delay, so patients from Olean choosing or ambulances coming to UPMC Chautauqua. We were not a tertiary care center, but it is said we are becoming one because we are getting patients from other facilities that are taxing our system as well.”

Wendel echoed Schulyer’s sentiments, pointing out that average citizens might not be aware of the struggle the medical systems and their personnel are undergoing at this time. While things might not look that much different on a shopping trip to Walmart or Wegmans, he said the story is very different in area hospitals and medical facilities.

“It’s those places that the battle is being waged at that people don’t realize,” he said. “EMTs will tell you to plan on what used to be an hour to be at least two hours, maybe longer, waiting to get a bed or to transfer your patient from the ambulance to hospital care.”

Wendel said various issues added to the problems the medical systems are facing, but the “vaccination mandate does not help.”

“Thirty-five thousand employees in the health care profession do not have jobs because of that,” he said. “It’s critical. We’re seeing in many hospitals from Olean throughout I’m sure throughout Western New York — (due to) a lack of staffing in nursing homes — not being able to discharge patients to a nursing or long-care facility. They occupy beds which prevents people from the (emergency department) from going up to (another bed). That’s where the problem lies.”

Wendel said Gov. Kathy Hochul had a good idea in supplementing medical care professionals with National Guard members; however, there is a limited time those individuals would be available.

“If you take patients in a nursing home because you’ve got 40 extra staff, what happens in three or four weeks or a month when they’re gone?” He said. “That’s another concern that’s out there. It’s a great idea — but how do we help?”

Wendel also brought up the idea of masking indoors. First and foremost, he said, the public needs to know that the county “never told people to go without masks.”

“Now we’re encouraging people to wear a mask when you’re in indoor facilities when you’re out,” he said. “I don’t know why people think for some reason we’ve lifted that. Bottom line it’s a personal responsibility that each one of us has, and now we’re back into a heavy infection rate — wear those masks. But again, in a sense, we need to focus on ourselves — worry about ourselves. If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask — that’s what we’re telling you.”

Wendel noted that those who choose not to wear a mask may not always be unvaccinated. Likewise, business owners who implement masking policies are not an “infringement on your constitutional rights” or an “act of domestic terrorism.”

“That’s them taking concern for their business and their operation and trying to take responsibility for the people that come into their facility,” he said.

“Including their own staff,” Schuyler added. “You’ve got a lot of people who have jobs who are sick and can’t come to work because they’re sick. That means those of us who want to go shopping or want to go to the store, or need this or that — you don’t have the service that you had before because there are people who aren’t able to work. There are ripple effects to all of this.”

Wendel followed up with a stringent declaration.

“We can’t urge strongly enough, especially with what Christine said — we need to get people vaccinated,” he said. “Put the politics aside. It’s just plain out there. It’s helping us and we need to continue moving forward.”


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