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As Cheshire Medical Center continues to pause some surgeries, backlog of waiting patients grows

Two ICU staff inside Chesire Medical Center are at work. One is giving a thumbs up sign through the windo.
Mark Washburn from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health
Chesire Medical Center has expanded their ICU from 10 beds to 14 beds. The expansion came last month, when transferring patients become increasingly difficult to do in-state.

A pause on non-emergency surgeries and procedures will continue through the first week of February, leaders at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene announced Monday.

It’s a decision hospitals across the state have been making in recent months, as patient volumes have soared amidst a record surge in COVID related hospitalizations, and staffing shortages remain a challenge. Cheshire Medical Center paused so-called “elective surgeries” and procedures in early December to make more space available for severely ill COVID-19 patients.

Stretching that decision into early February is tricky, according to Amy Matthews, Cheshire’s chief nursing officer.

“You want to make the decision far enough ahead to be fair to people who are arranging their life to be able to come in and have a procedure,” she said. “But we don't want to be so far ahead that we're not hitting the mark.”

And pausing those surgeries is not without cost, Matthews said.

“We have hundreds of surgeries that are getting into that backlog,” she said. “We don't want them to be in a delayed period for long.”

While a surgery might be considered non-emergent, or “elective,” Matthews says the term can be misleading. Patients do often need these procedures, which can range from a colonoscopy to a hip replacement.

Still, it’s a decision that has proved necessary for Cheshire Medical Center, as the hospital surpassed its own record of COVID-19 patients earlier this month, and started placing COVID patients on an additional floor.

Dr. Robert Westlake, a physician who works with patients that have difficulty breathing, said his patient list is double its regular size. This current surge, he said, has been particularly difficult to witness, in part, because he knows many of his unvaccinated patients could have had better outcomes.

“The volume, the intensity is way worse,” Westlake said. “Parents of teenage kids dying of something that's preventable. I've never seen anything like that in my career.”

Cheshire staff plan to reassess their pause on non-emergent procedures and surgeries every week going forward.

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