Health care providers across New Hampshire are adjusting to a new coronavirus reality. They’re also preparing for an even bleaker possible future – one that includes a surge in patients requiring critical care as the virus continues to spread.
From the state’s biggest hospitals, to community health centers, to local doctors’ offices, medical facilities in New Hampshire are taking dramatic steps to keep their patients, and their employees, safe from the coronavirus.
In many cases, the moves are meant to address basic medical needs. For instance, providers are scrambling to preserve what personal protective equipment they have. Gowns, gloves, hand sanitizer, and of course, masks, have become a precious commodity in New Hampshire as they have nationwide.
But it’s not only medical supplies. Providers are also grappling with anticipated workforce shortages now that schools and many daycare providers are closing, likely requiring employees with children to stay home. And some are also worried about the financial implications of reduced patient visits from the general public.
A Variety of Coping Strategies
The preparations look different, depending on the medical facility, though there is a shared sense of concern. At the state’s largest hospitals, they are bracing for a surge in patients by changing some of the basics of how they operate. At Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon and Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, elective surgeries and other procedures have been postponed in a bid to save protective equipment for hospital workers who are expected to treat a rising number of patients with COVID-19.
As of Monday (March 16) a spokesperson for CMC told NHPR the hospital has roughly a week’s worth of protective equipment for medical staff, though they stressed that the true amount is a moving target with additional shipments coming in regularly.
Many hospitals are also banning or severely limiting visitors.
Amoskeag Health, formerly the Manchester Community Health Center, is also canceling non-essential appointments and working to preserve its protective equipment.
But President and CEO Kris McCracken said that’s made harder by the fact that some patients are stealing masks and other supplies during their appointments.
Perhaps even more concerning for McCracken, however, is the fact that roughly half of her more than 230 staffers will be impacted by childcare needs following the closure of schools statewide.
The health center is also working to translate many CDC and state public health documents into several foreign languages as a substantial number of its patients are non-English speakers.
At small doctor’s offices like Crossroads Family Medicine in Concord, the mood is no less urgent.
Dr. Peter Loeser said his staff is taking the temperature of every patient at the door before allowing them inside. Routine tests for things like strep throat that require throat swabs are being performed in the parking lot.
Loeser said he and his staff of 12 have decided to don N95 masks all day at work, for fear of the virus, regardless of the type of procedure they are performing. But because the office is down to just one box of those masks, staff are labeling and reusing them from day to day, in line with new CDC guidelines.
Loeser, who owns his own practice, also has deep concerns about the financial impact of a coronavirus contamination of his office. He’s calculated that, if such a contamination forced the shutdown of his office for two weeks, it would cost him $75,000. Enough, Loeser said, to put him out of business.