Mass. Hospitals Stretched Thin With Rising COVID Cases and Staffing Shortages

UMass Memorial Health President and CEO Dr. Eric Dickson says Central Massachusetts has the lowest number of hospital beds per capita in the state amid an uptick of COVID-19 cases and staffing shortages, with the nurse strike at Saint Vincent Hospital playing a factor

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Hospitals across Massachusetts are critically close to or even above capacity – due to staffing shortages, an uptick in COVID-19 cases and a significant increase in the number of people needing in-patient care.

"It can get bad enough at times that even the ambulance has to wait to drop a patient off," said UMass Memorial Health President and CEO Dr. Eric Dickson.

That's why the hospitals joined with Gov. Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association to announce a reduction in elective surgeries starting next week.

"Anywhere from 5% to 50% of their in-patient capacity is from prescheduled surgeries," said Dickson. "For some hospitals, they'll be able to open up a lot of capacity for the emergency department to get those patients in."

Dickson says Central Massachusetts has the lowest number of beds available per capita of anywhere in the state, due in part to the nearly 100 beds that are offline because of the ongoing nurses strike at Saint Vincent Hospital.

"That is absolutely having an impact on this region of the state," said Dickson.

Hospitals in Boston are stretched thin, too.

"A lot of our hospitals have patients in them that don't need to be in acute care hospitals, they could be in post-acute care, like in a skilled nursing facility or rehab facility, for example," said Mass General Brigham Chief Operating Officer Dr. Ron Walls.

Walls says this will mostly impact cases where a patient needs an in-patient bed, and where delaying the procedure won't negatively impact their health.

"Patients should just trust that they will be contacted if there's any changes in plans," said Walls, "so they should assume that they're going to go ahead with their plans as scheduled."

Hospital officials say they anticipate postponing elective procedures for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

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