Citing a "critical staffing shortage" that has contributed to the loss of around 700 hospital beds since the start of 2021, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Friday issued a series of orders aimed at helping acute care hospitals preserve their capacity.
The DPH is also advising people not to seek care at emergency rooms for "routine" needs, including COVID-19 testing and vaccines.
The orders from Acting Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke, according to the Baker administration, allow qualified physician assistants to practice independently without a doctor's supervision, enable expedited licensure for doctors trained in other countries, require DPH-licensed facilities to expedite credentialing and facilitate staff transfers across and between hospitals, and give resident physicians flexibility to engage in "internal moonlighting," or providing patient care outside their specialized training program. Another order allows out-of-hospital dialysis providers to relax staffing requirement levels.
On Friday, as part of its daily COVID-19 data dashboard, the DPH reported that 94% of the 8,836 staffed medical/surgical hospital beds in the state and 87% of 1,281 intensive care unit beds were occupied.
"Our healthcare system continues to experience significant workforce and capacity constraints due to longer than average hospital stays, separate and apart from the challenges brought on by COVID," Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said in a statement. "Working closely with our hospital leaders, these additional actions by DPH will allow for flexibility to preserve our hospital capacity in the coming weeks."
Gov. Charlie Baker in December activated 500 National Guard members to support hospitals, and another 500 are set to be activated next week to assist community hospitals and high-volume emergency departments, public hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and dialysis centers.