COVID testing line stretches around Cambridgeside Galleria in MA
A long line for COVID testing was seen winding through a shopping mall in Cambridge, in video posted on Dec. 20 by Rachel Leicher.
Rachel Leicher via Storyful, Rachel Leicher via Storyful
Hospitals across Massachusetts are once again sounding the alarm over critical bed capacity compounded by a staffing crisis, as the state’s COVID cases surge and community infection rates climb.
Hospitalization rates are passing previous pandemic highs – higher than at any point since May 2020 – and that’s combined with healthcare staffing shortages, exhausted employees and an overall increase in seriously ill patients, not just those battling COVID.
“In my career, I’ve never seen a more challenging time,” Dr. Jeffrey Hopkins, director of emergency services at Milford Regional Medical Center, said this week.
As of Jan. 11, the entire northeastern region of Massachusetts had a mere five available ICU beds and five regular beds in its hospitals, according to Department of Public Health data.
In the central and southeastern parts of the state, there were less than 20 available ICU beds in each region.
Dr. Eric Dickson, UMass Memorial Health President and CEO, called it “just brutal,” predicting this week that the omicron variant peak was still yet to come.
In Boston, Mayor Michelle Wu this week announced the city’s test positivity rate at 32%. On Wednesday, the Department of Public Health reported 22,184 new cases statewide.
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Massachusetts COVID hospitalization numbers rise, staff strained
As of Jan. 11, 3,087 patients were hospitalized with COVID in Massachusetts – 473 of whom were in intensive care units and 271 who were intubated, according to state Department of Public Health data.
At that juncture, 94% of the state’s medical/surgical beds were full, and 87% of ICU beds were occupied.
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At UMass Memorial-Marlborough Hospital, staff members are catching the omicron variant in record numbers, COO and Chief Nursing Officer John Kelly said recently, and the hospital is having to call in additional providers because of the high volume of patients in the emergency department.
South Shore Hospital in Weymouth currently has 122 patients hospitalized for COVID, but its capacity problems are also coupled with large numbers of patients who have other illnesses, South Shore Health President and CEO Dr. Allen Smith said last week.
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“In this wave, we’re seeing tremendous amounts of COVID as we’re seeing nationally, and we’re also seeing the normal things we see, plus the impact of delayed care,” Smith said. “We are full with both COVID and non-COVID.”
The Massachusetts COVID data dashboard for Jan. 11 showed meager numbers of available medical/surgical beds particularly in the state’s northeast, southeast, central, MetroWest, and Metro Boston regions – all less than 10% of beds available.
The northeastern, central and southeastern areas had the lowest numbers of available ICU beds in the state.
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Massachusetts changes COVID reporting policy
Starting Monday of this week, in a major shift, all hospitals in Massachusetts changed how they are reporting COVID-19 cases going forward.
Hospitals will report two separate datasets: the number of patients hospitalized primarily for COVID-19, and those who are hospitalized for something else and then test positive while hospitalized.
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Gannett New England reporters Craig Semon, Abby Patkin, Cynthia McCormick and Jessica Trufant contributed to this story.