By Renée K. Gadoua | Contributing writer

St. Joseph’s Health CEO and President Leslie Paul Luke this week echoed state leaders with a cautiously optimistic report about COVID-19.

“As it stands today, for us, the data that we have, it appears that we have passed the peak,” Luke said April 20 during a press conference with Onondaga County officials. “On average, we’re having maybe about 1.5 admissions per day. We’re anticipating over time that’s going to decrease.”

His comments came about six weeks after Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a statewide state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic. State and county leaders began closing schools and businesses March 14.

By March 16, diocesan schools were closed and public Masses suspended to stop the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. New York state remains under stay-at-home orders until at least May 15.

About 1,244 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the seven counties of the Syracuse Diocese by April 20, according to the New York State Department of Health. About 40 deaths from the disease had been reported in the region by that date.

Cuomo said April 20 New York state may have passed the peak of COVID cases, but warned people to continue social distancing to protect themselves and others. “This is cause and effect,” he said during an April 20 press conference. “What we do today will determine tomorrow.”

St. Joseph’s is ready to resume elective surgeries as soon as the governor lifts the ban, Luke said. Cuomo said that although the state is not yet close to reopening nonessential businesses, he might soon ease up on the ban on elective surgeries.

St. Joseph’s was treating 18 COVID patients this week. Luke said the hospital has enough ventilators to treat patients, but could use more personal protective equipment (PPE), especially n95 masks.

The health system earlier this month announced it would cut the pay of senior staff, furlough some employees, reassign others, and reduce some full-time positions to part-time as responding to the rapidly evolving coronavirus pandemic strained the health system’s capacity and income declined because elective surgeries had been canceled.

About 500 of the health system’s 4,800 employees have been furloughed. Those employees “do not have work that is directly related to our most critical needs during this pandemic,” Luke said in a letter to employees. Furloughed employees will take time off without pay but will continue to receive benefits including health, dental, and basic life insurance. Another 150 employees have moved to different assignments.

Luke’s letter does not say how long these workforce changes will continue.

St. Joseph’s belongs to Trinity Health, one of the nation’s largest Catholic health care delivery systems.

St. Joseph’s Health announced April 10 it had raised $50,000 in one week for two funds created in response to the coronavirus pandemic: the COVID-19 Medical Response Fund and COVID 19 Community Support Fund. The Foundation is also accepting donations for its Colleague Emergency Assistance Fund to support employees facing financial hardships during the COVID crisis.

Donations can be made online or by contacting the Foundation Office at fou

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