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N.H. Hospitals Say They're Prepared For COVID Surge, But Aren’t Letting Guard Down

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Dan Tuohy / NHPR
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COVID-19-related hospitalizations in New Hampshire are on the rise, with the seven-day average now at 51 patients.

The state is also seeing daily case counts higher than at any time during the pandemic, and health experts say they expect hospitalizations to follow closely behind.

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But some of the state's hospitals say they are more prepared for those cases this time around, based on what they learned in the spring. Some hospitals, like Dartmouth-Hitchcock facilities, have already taken action in response to the recent surge by tightening visitor access.

“Hospitals are intently engaged in the increasing numbers and are taking changes appropriately,” said Elizabeth Talbot, New Hampshire’s deputy state epidemiologist. “I have a great confidence in the hospital system in New Hampshire’s continuous preparation for what might happen in the next few weeks."

Southern New Hampshire Medical Center and Elliot Hospital are currently treating about 15 to 20 COVID-19 patients, about half as many as they saw in the spring. If the numbers continue at their current rate, Elliot President and SolutionHealth Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Greg Baxter says Elliot has added patient capacity to its conference rooms.

“We may be dialing down some things if there’s a capacity constraint to make sure we can always maintain that capacity," Baxter said. "I think we are a fair ways from that, but we’ve seen those numbers happen before and we know what to do in terms of dialing down traditional health care."

The supply chain for PPE and ventilators is stronger, and doctors are better equipped to treat COVID-19 patients, Baxter added. Doctors have learned that COVID-19 patients who may have typically been put on a ventilator can sometimes recover without one, clearing up space for other patients.

The state is also able to test much more than they did last spring, allowing them to identify positive cases faster.

 

Staffing could still remain a challenge, and that could impact the ability to continue some outpatient services at Elliot and Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, Baxter said.

 

"There isn't a staffing pool in the sky we can pull from," he said. "I wish we all had one. We had seen some support in the spring where the National Guard was able to stand up some testing centers and those things, so all of that together will add to our total assets we can bring to bear."

 

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