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Right now, more FEMA-funded staffers may not mean Elliot Hospital can accept transfer patients

A photograph of Elliot Hospital in Manchester's sign.
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
Dr. Greg Baxter, President of Elliot Health Systems, says Elliot’s Intensive Care Unit is currently running at 150 percent capacity, already spilling over into an extra surge space. Patients in the emergency department are waiting nearly 24 hours for a bed.

As COVID-19 hospitalizations in New Hampshire continue to set new pandemic records, federal medical support teams will arrive at Elliot Hospital in Manchester this weekend.

They’re part of an effort to alleviate a health care staffing shortage contributing to long ER wait times and unstaffed units.

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But opening up enough space at Elliot to receive patients from other New Hampshire hospitals may take time as the hospital prioritizes its own high volumes of ICU patients and overwhelmed emergency department, says Elliot Health System’s President, Dr. Greg Baxter.

“I don't know how well we will be able to answer a phone call affirmatively from a hospital in the North Country who wants to send us a patient,” said Dr. Baxter.

Dr. Baxter’s comments present a sharp contrast to outcomes expected from state officials, including Gov. Chris Sununu, offered at a Wednesday press conference.

Sununu said new staff teams, funded by FEMA will be able to “open up entire wings in some of these hospital facilities.”

The staffing plan state officials outlined on Wednesday was accurate earlier this week, Dr. Baxter said. But because demand for beds is changing every day, that plan isn't today’s reality.

When asked if Elliot would be able to take transfers from other hospitals, Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette affirmed that ability was a large part of why Elliot was chosen as the first location for the federally funded teams to provide additional staffing.

Because of a lack of capacity, some New Hampshire hospitals need to transfer patients out of state.

Dr. Baxter says Elliot’s Intensive Care Unit is currently running at 150 percent capacity, already spilling over into an extra surge space. Patients in the emergency department are waiting nearly 24 hours for a bed.

Dr. Baxter says ideally, support staff would have helped convert Elliot’s 10 open observational beds directly into ICU beds. But because the personnel, who are with National Disaster Medical System, aren’t a full ICU team, opening up more ICU capacity isn’t automatically possible.

Dr. Baxter hopes Elliot will get to the point of accepting patients from other New Hampshire hospitals soon.

But with COVID-19 cases still surging across the state, hospitalizations from the virus are expected to continue to increase. The rise in COVID hospitalizations comes as traditional patient demand is also high, and staffing shortages persist.

At Elliot, Dr. Baxter said around 90 percent of COVID patients right now are unvaccinated.

As hospitals across the state face record patient volumes, Sununu is holding firm on his decision not to declare a state of emergency or require any preventative public health measures like indoor masking.

Updated: December 21, 2021 at 5:05 PM EST
This article was updated to say that the extra support staff is funded by FEMA, they're not FEMA staff.