However, the pressure points are different than in larger, urban institutions.
“We are fortunate we are in a community that follows the rules,” said Christine Schuster, Emerson’s president and CEO, during an interview Friday afternoon. “We are not in as bad a situation as some of the downtown hospitals or Worcester. We have to be vigilant with everything.”
As of Friday, there were about 30 patients suffering from the coronavirus at Emerson, Schuster said. And two-thirds of them were in the category of “incidental Covid.” The president explained: “Patients come to the hospital and are tested for Covid and don’t even know that they have it. There are no symptoms but they’re carrying the virus.”
The biggest impact is on staffing, she emphasized. Dozens – sometimes scores – miss a week or more because they are out with the virus. One day more than 125 employees – across the entire spectrum of Emerson and its satellites – were out, Schuster said.
This is quite a contrast from the situation during the initial months of the pandemic in 2020, when Emerson – as directed by state government – cleared its agenda and awaited an influx of Covid patients that never materialized, and as a result had to lay off dozens of people.
“We still have room, and it varies day to day based on staffing,” Schuster continued. “You do the best that you can do. We ask people to work overtime, we have outside staff agencies, we do what we can do to bring extra staff in. But we won’t bring patients in if we can’t care for them.”
“We are only doing things that are essential and urgent – every hospital has been asked to cut back on elective procedures,” Schuster said. “I hope that this follows the pattern of decline in the next couple of weeks. It’s a very difficult time right now because of how quickly this virus multiplies.”
She pointed out another issue. “If you just need something as simple as a Covid test, try to avoid the emergency room for simple testing. We have so many patients we are trying to take care of who are really sick.”
Mental health is a concern – for staff and patients. Counseling is an employee benefit, and “this year we added additional sessions as part of our health benefit,” Schuster related. “It’s really important for us to have resources available.” There are also relaxation facilities available “just if you need a break during your shift.”
Schuster said there has been an increase in patients diagnosed with mental health issues, and the challenge is that placement has to be found for those under age 18. “It’s a huge crisis in the state,” she said.
Schuster said the continuing limitations are “hard for our volunteers. I really miss the socialization. There are 500 volunteers. We keep in touch with them but we have to be careful. The hospital takes every precaution. We are excited for the day when we can welcome them all back.”
She advised, “If you can upgrade your mask, it’s the best thing to protect yourself if you have to go out in the community. You have to be careful with who is in your circle.”
“I’m living the life of a hermit,” she added, smiling.
Schuster is treasurer of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, which includes 70 licensed member hospitals, many of which are organized within 29-member health systems.
The association Friday released an “urgent message to the public,” in which Schuster asked everyone to “put our heads down and do all the things that providers and state leaders are asking for.” The bullet points were predictable. Masks. Vaccinations. Tests other than in emergency rooms.
And the last point was “providing support and gratitude to the health care worker in your life.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763