Holy Family Hospital Diverts Haverhill ICU Staff to Methuen to Create Isolated COVID-19 Unit

Holy Family Hospital, Haverhill campus. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Clarification: The story has been updated to reflect the number of intensive care unit beds in Methuen remains fluid to meet the situation.

Holy Family Hospital’s Methuen campus is preparing to create an isolated unit to care for COVID-19 patients and has ordered its Haverhill intensive care unit nurses to report there.

The hospital’s owner, Steward Health Care, is consolidating inpatient intensive care admissions by drawing resources from its Haverhill campus to the Methuen campus ICU unit over the next few days. Steward says the size of the Holy Family campus makes is possible to create the isolated unit. Holy Family told staff Friday night to assemble in Methuen for shifts that began at 7 p.m., Saturday. Dr. Joseph Weinstein, chief medical officer for Steward Health Care, said traditional models of care are ineffective at addressing the surge in virus cases, citing “lessons from Italy and China.”

“Significantly lower infection and mortality rates were achieved in places like Germany and South Korea, where hospitals clustered COVID-19 patients in isolated locations, thus lessening the chance of infection for other patients and staff,” he said.

The changes associated with the “proven isolation strategy,” according to Steward, include better care and recovery chances for COVID-19 patients, reduced mortality rates, and better capacity for other Steward hospitals to care for patients undergoing treatments for health conditions unrelated to the virus.

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini reported on social media that, as of Sunday, Holy Family Hospital has seven patients in ICU who are COVID-19 positive.

Holy Family Hospital spokeswoman Deborah Chiaravalloti notes, “Methuen has 211 licensed beds. We are expanding our ICU on the Methuen campus to meet the anticipated surge, but the number of beds we have in the ICU remains fluid to meet the situation.”

Nurses from Steward hospitals in Arizona and Utah began arriving in Massachusetts last week to assist with care, and more than 100 nurses from other Steward hospitals in Massachusetts have volunteered to be temporarily reassigned to hospitals with greater needs.

Steward also reported Sunday that it launched a program “months ago” to acquire and stockpile specialty ventilators and personal protective equipment to treat COVID-19 patients as part of preparations for the arrival of the virus. Once the coming surge declines, the company plans to move unused equipment to its other hospitals as those facilities deal with an influx of patients.

The claims about preparedness conflict with assertions from the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents more than 2,750 nurses and health care workers in eight Steward-owned hospitals in Massachusetts. On Friday, the nurses union alleged that Steward is inconsistently providing protective equipment like N95 masks and gowns and that nurses “are forced to reuse soiled masks for days.”

“If the stockpile exists, there is a disconnect because the supplies are not generally accessible to staff when needed,” the union said.

In a statement released by the nurses association on Friday, Carney Hospital nurse Peg Conlon said, “Yesterday there were not enough N95 masks available in the ICU, in the special COVID-19 units or anywhere in the hospital. What we do see is a dangerous rationing of PPE at Carney, which is a guarantee for more spread, and of a loss of staff as more of us become sick.”

Without identifying his source, Fiorentini said, the hospital “feel(s) that they have an adequate number of respirators for right now. If there is a big surge, they will need more staffing.”

Steward Health Care on Saturday began transforming Morton Hospital in Taunton into a dedicated care center for patients who test positive for the virus. The company on March 17 made a similar move at its Carney Hospital in Dorchester.

Steward also suspended inpatient intensive care admissions at Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer, saying the change will increase its overall ICU availability by redeploying staff and equipment to communities with increasing needs.

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