An incoming tide of patients is slowly drowning UMass Memorial Medical Center, and the US military’s National Guard is working to plug the gaps. In wave after daily wave, the emergency crews pull up to the ambulance bay, dropping off patients for which there is no room.
“It’s just the perfect storm for a nightmare here in the emergency department,” says Dr. Eric Dickson, the CEO of the hospital and an emergency physician.
The main hospital in central Massachusetts is already over capacity at 115%, and the numbers are only expected to rise in the coming weeks as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly across the region.
The primary Covid-19 testing site in downtown Worcester has been packed. On Tuesday, the positivity rate was 40%, according to the hospital, more than double what it was one year ago.
The most severe of those cases, the hospital warns, will show up over the next two weeks, a period when the hospital is already short-staffed. About 500 people are out with Covid, mostly medical staff who have tested positive for Covid or are exhibiting symptoms.
Dickson calls it the “wild card” for the hospital – an unknown that will affect the hospital’s very ability to treat incoming patients. The space, he says, can be found. But are there enough staff to allow the hospital to function?
The Massachusetts National Guard is part of that solution, deploying to hospitals just after Christmas.
“We have soldiers and airmen that may be computer programmers, that may be school teachers, they may be working in the community, business people, whatever that is, and they’re filling very different roles this time,” says Lt. Col. Patrick Donnelly of the Massachusetts National Guard, “roles as drivers or as transport people within the hospital - food service, security, and patient observance.”
It is the third Covid activation for this Guard unit since the beginning of the pandemic two years ago, and even though it came at an “awkward time” during the holiday season, Guard members stepped up for the mission.
“We’re able to feel that these guys are working very hard,” says Staff Sgt. Julius Annan, “and that our presence here is helping them just even mentally-wise.”