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Code White Is Back: North Conway’s Hospital Returns to Emergency Operations Mode

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Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro expressed facing a similar predicament as Memorial Hospital in North Conway.

This week, Memorial Hospital in North Conway reinstituted their emergency operations mode, known as Code White. Both the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit and general medical-surgical beds have been at or near capacity in recent days.

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New Hampshire hospitalizations from COVID-19 have more than doubled, on average, in the past two weeks. Will Owen, the emergency preparedness manager at Memorial Hospital, is concerned about what the trend will mean for the capacity of health care facilities around the state.

Already, Memorial Hospital has had trouble transferring patients to other New England institutions for specialized care. Owen says around a third of the beds at Memorial Hospital are holding patients who are waiting to move into long-term care. Staffing shortages in long-term care facilities make it difficult for them to accept new residents.

But there are different concerns around capacity and the virus than early in the pandemic. Eighteen months ago, Owen says, many people were avoiding health care facilities. Non-essential surgeries were on hold. Primary care offices were temporarily closed. Fewer patients meant the institution could better care for COVID-19 patients. Now, Memorial Hospital, like others across the state, is experiencing a surge of patients returning for care for non-COVID reasons.

“If we continue on the trajectory we are on, which is maximum capacity with non-COVID patients, and COVID numbers continue to go up and become more of a majority, that becomes a problem,” Owen explained.

A spokesperson for Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro expressed facing a similar predicament. “These increases in demand for COVID-19 services, along with an increase in demand for our traditional emergency and primary care services, has put us in a difficult position.”

This week, Dartmouth-Hitchock returned to a more restrictive visitor policy and resumed patient testing for anyone admitted to the hospital, regardless of vaccination status.

Owen says, as his team plans for an uncertain fall, they’re hesitant to temporarily close services. Preventative care and routine visits can help avoid emergencies in the future.

As Owen plans ahead, he’s asking himself questions like “When does a routine colonoscopy screening stop being routine? When does that become more of an emergency?”

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