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How One N.H. Hospital Is Scaling Back Its COVID Operation

Alli Fam
Joe Lentini, an EMT who works at Memorial Hospital's Testing Clinic, bags vials.

Allie Harrop, 9, is getting a COVID-19 test at Memorial Hospital in North Conway. Though the process is a little uncomfortable, she says it’s totally worth it because she needs one to go to summer camp this year. She couldn’t go in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“I’m supposed to get tested, so that I’m not bringing COVID to the other kids,” she says. (For reference: Her favorite activities include high ropes and swimming.)

As vaccination rates have gone up, testing statewide has gone down. Back in January, over 10,000 tests were conducted each day. Now it’s fewer than 3,000, and some health providers are now winding down their COVID-19 testing infrastructure. A growing proportion of visitors at Memorial’s site are people who need negative COVID tests for an upcoming activity: kids like Harrop, patients for upcoming medical procedures or travelers.

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Joe Lentini, an EMT, used to work with several other people at Memorial’s testing site. He says they tested up to 150 people during a longer day. Now, he says he does 25-30 tests himself in the mornings.

The inside of Memorial Hospital's testing site, which is works is filled with vials, computers and desks, and cleaning supplies.
Credit Alli Fam / NHPR
The inside of Memorial Hospital's testing site.

The wooden shed in which he works is filled with vials, computers and desks, and cleaning supplies. A year ago, the shed didn’t even exist. And at the end of the week, its operations are going on pause. The hospital will continue to test symptomatic patients through the Emergency Department.

Demand for vaccines has also gone down. For the hospital’s emergency preparedness manager, Will Owen, that represents a significant change to his daily schedule. 

“You know, you're going 100 miles an hour, working 12 hour days easily for months. And then all of a sudden..there's nothing to do,” Owen reflects. 

Owen thinks the slow days have come too soon. 

It weighs on him that 3 in 10 of eligible Granite Staters still haven’t gotten a single shot of the vaccine. He knows there are still thousands of unvaccinated people in his community. Owen would love to see them walk through the clinic’s door, but he realizes they might not. The vaccination clinic, which used to operate 5 days a week, is cutting back to just Wednesdays. 

Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matt Dunn says the purpose of this transition period is to ensure they can quickly spin up their testing and vaccination operation again. They’re not letting go of the space in which they’re holding their vaccination clinic.

“We’re going to hold that lease, just in case,” Dunn says.

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