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As COVID-19 Hospitalizations Remain High, Some N.H. Hospitals Say They Need More Support

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

For almost a week, COVID-19 hospitalizations in New Hampshire have hovered above 300 people, more than double the peak seen in the spring.

(Scroll down or click here to see what the situation was like at your local hospital last week.)

Since about mid-December, according to federal data, roughly 1 in 5 of New Hampshire's ICU beds was occupied by a patient with a confirmed case of COVID-19. At the start of January, that translated to about 60 COVID patients in ICUs statewide, up from about 30 a month before.

Those numbers, paired with staffing shortages and the already-busy winter months, have forced many hospitals to adapt. That means elective surgeries being postponed, additional beds added to ICUs and some patients being transferred to other regional hospitals.

On Tuesday, 305 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 34 more suspected positive patients in state hospitals, according to the New Hampshire Hospital Association. Health officials expected the surge, which began rising about a week after Christmas.

“The concerning thing is we’re at a higher plateau to start that, so we have a very full ICU capacity across the state of New Hampshire,” said Dr. Greg Baxter, president of the Elliot Health System in Manchester.

Bed capacity is changing by the hour at many hospitals. As of Tuesday morning, Baxter said 42 of 250 inpatients had COVID-19. In the Elliot Hospital's ICU, which Baxter said is now full, half have COVID-19. Additional ICU beds were added this weekend.

It’s a similar story at Concord Hospital, where Chief Quality Officer Chris Fore says hospitalizations peaked last week and have begun to level off, but the ICU has been full “more often than not.”

“Here locally in Concord, we spend a lot of time, and when I mean a lot of time, literally half of our days, seven days a week, just planning to stay ahead of what the capacity needs are,” Fore said.

To meet those needs, they’ve added eight additional critical care beds and have been accepting transfers from other hospitals.

And although some hospitals currently have the capacity to add more beds, the bigger problem is staffing them. Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia and its partner hospital in Franklin have been struggling with that, as 27 staffers were quarantined Tuesday and all staffed inpatient beds were full.

Even transferring some patients is becoming a challenge, said Cass Walker, vice president of administrative and support services at LRGHealthcare, because other hospitals are filling up, too.

“We can’t open up beds because we don’t have places for some of our patients to go,” Walker said.

LRGH is looking at moving back toward more telehealth as staffing challenges continue.

“We can feel for our staff who are trying to hang in there, but they’re tired, and they’re worried," she said. "The entire health care system needs some help to be able to get through this."

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